At one of last week’s performances of The House of Yes, part of the American Playwright Series celebrated at the Jerry Herman Ring Theater, the audience was presented with the a special guest– the American playwright herself, Wendy MacLeod.
The House of Yes is about the ultimate dysfunctional family, centered on the insane sister who goes by Jackie O. and reenacts the assassination of JFK with her twin brother, with whom she has had an affair.
MacLeod answered questions from audience members, who asked questions ranging from what her life is like to what inspires her to write plays with controversial topics.
“I’m inherently interested in plays that cross borders,” MacLeod said. “I like to sort of attack difficult subject matter in an unexpected way.”
The idea for The House of Yes is based on a family she knows that lived near the Kennedy’s with a daughter that looked like Jackie O.
“The family is still speaking to me,” MacLeod said with a laugh.
The title for the play came from graffiti she saw on a bathroom wall, which she used because it made her think of how Jackie was spoiled because nobody said “no” to her.
“It reminded me of a porn movie title, which is right,” MacLeod said.
When asked about writing one act plays, MacLeod said she thought The House of Yes would not have worked as well if it were longer.
“You don’t want to give the audience a chance to leave, frankly,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod also talked about the film that was adapted from The House of Yes. She believes that while movies give a more realistic feel, live performances are larger than life.
“Theater can be provocative in a way the other forms can’t,” she said.
MacLeod started off as an actor, but then became interested in directing. She said she directed A Midsummer Nights Dream with Kathleen Turner, but soon found it too stressful.
MacLeod then focused on writing, using her background in acting and directing to help her incorporate visual aspects into her work. She also attended the playwriting program at Yale.
“Getting into Yale is like getting into heaven. You don’t say, ‘no, I don’t want to go to heaven.'”
After her discussion ended and she received a standing ovation, people from the audience and cast members from both of her shows huddled around her, asking her more questions and getting autographs. Members of the audience seemed to be in awe of her.
“Just hearing her talk is fantastic,” said one woman while she was waiting to meet the author.
The cast was more apprehensive than usual knowing she was going to be in the audience.
“Having the playwright coming makes you more meticulous, and, for me, more nervous,” said Josh Fiedler, who played the younger brother, Anthony, as his fellow actors shushed him for reminding them of their own fears.
However, the actors enjoyed doing the show, partly because it helped them grow as actors to play such odd characters.
“It’s really challenging,” said Christina Valo, who played Jackie O. “I like to think I’m not insane and I get to play someone who is.”
Brett Friedman, who played the twin brother, believed their nerves would actually help them, because the cast feeds off each other’s energy.
“With five people, the connections are important,” Friedman said. “We’ve gotten along, like a nice, dysfunctional family.”