All is not well in the house of Pascal. This place, this House of Yes, isn't the House of Usher — playwright Wendy MacLeod has said she was partly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe — but there's illness here.
The family, Kennedy neighbors in an exclusive McLean, Virginia, neighborhood in the early 1980s, is a crumbling segment of the upper crust, threatened by an approaching hurricane on Thanksgiving Day. And the Moving Target Theatre puts us right in the storm's path, with a production that closely tethers audience to performers in the small Fishtank Theater.
It needn't play bigger. A raised eyebrow or a glance askance from one of the removed, insulated Pascals becomes personal in these intimate confines. We're witnessing members of the privileged class revealing themselves and their secrets with the subtlest of tells.
Their relationships, MacLeod has written, contain "that tension between the Noel Coward veneer and the Pinteresque subtext that makes the play both funny and moving." Under the direction of Darren Sextro, the 90-minute one-act is taut enough to fulfill that design. We sometimes want to look away. We can't.
As the action unfolds, Anthony complains that his sister, Jackie-O, is putting crosses on the windows — masking tape to prepare for the impending storm. "The Kennedys aren't putting crosses on their windows," he says, referring to the clan with which his sister is obsessed. Their mother, Mrs. Pascal, complains that the goo is going to remain on the glass. But this is the least of the family's problems. There isn't enough preparation for the arrival this day of Marty, Jackie-O's beloved — maybe too beloved — twin, who's visiting from New York for the holiday. He's bringing a tempest of his own: his fiancée, Lesly, an intruder on this familial dysfunction.
The actors here delineate their characters in studied and focused portrayals. Christina Schafer Martin's charismatic Jackie-O abides near the edge, newly out of a mental hospital and on meds. Jan Rogge's Mrs. Pascal may be less clueless than her hands-off tactics suggest. (She claims that "cattle are raised," but children — they just "happen.") J. Will Fritz's Anthony, the youngest, is mostly innocent but also, perhaps, calculating. He has dropped out of Princeton and fallen into the role of watching over his sister.
Justin Speer's Marty is vulnerable, even desperate, as he falls back to his past while yearning for a future with Lesly, a waitress from the other end of the economic and class spectrum. She gives him balance and a chance at some normalcy. As Lesly, Hailey Jones reveals the wisdom within a character who only appears simple. The tug of war for Marty hints at the differing ambitions of the affluent and the middle class — as apparent now as they were during the Reagan years.
The Fishtank's narrow theater feels ample for Sextro's staging, with credit to Shea Coffman's set and Gregory Casparian's atmospheric lighting design. But it's the characters — and the way MacLeod's story slowly peels away their layers — that pull us in, and it's the crisp performances that keep us there. As coat after coat comes off, scene after scene, the history and the truths of these troubled House of Yes inhabitants are exposed.