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LA Theater Review

The House of Yes

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Playwright Wendy MacLeod's scathing dark comedy springs vividly to life with a talented cast in the vibrant directorial debut of Katharine Brandt. MacLeod's play zings with snappy, stylized dialogue and the breathtaking dysfunction of a family lost in murder, mental illness, and incest. Daughter Jackie-O (Brianna Lee Johnson) is the poster child for the family's insanity, having been recently released from a mental hospital and sporting a long résumé of psychotic breaks that include shooting her twin brother, Marty (Scott Victor Nelson).

Jackie-O didn't shoot her brother because she hates him; she is obsessively in love with Marty, with whom she acts out her sexual fantasies, the foremost being a ritualistic shooting while she wears an exact copy of the dress Jackie Kennedy wore when her husband was assassinated in Dallas. Needless to say, Jackie-O doesn't get out much, except for periodic visits to the hospital. Most of the time, she lives in a kind of faded upper-crust squalor with her batty mother (Alexandra Billings) and borderline younger brother (Dean Chekvala).

Marty has done his best to escape the family's criminal insanity and has moved up to New York City in search of a normal life. He finds at least a glimmer of normalcy in his relationship with an earnest and innocent transplant (Marisa Lee) from rural Pennsylvania. When Marty brings her home to meet the family for Thanksgiving, she learns a whole lot about this crazy family in very short order.

MacLeod's play, an almost surrealistically dark portrayal of an American family at the turn of the 21st century, evokes the primitive brutality of a family system run wildly amuck. Yet it probes the universality of the darker impulses of family life and even spurs a reluctant sense of exuberance as it rips off some of our traditional social masks.

The acting is terrific. Johnson is radiant in her obsessive dementia. Billings is delightful in her almost cold-blooded take on motherhood. Nelson brings a purposeful sense of detail and focus to his pivotal role. Lee is marvelous as the innocent voice of normalcy. Chevala is magnetic as the perennially neglected younger brother. And Brandt's careful and inspired direction brings the ensemble together in all its sociopathic glory.

Presented by Tall Blonde Productions at The Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. Mar. 24-Apr. 28. (323) 960-5772. www.complexhollywood.com.

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