Family secrets and scandals become fodder for public delectation
House of Chavis is Robert Macke’s play about spilling and spoiling. Family secrets and scandals become fodder for public delectation. A series of vignettes limns the greatest character never seen, Vincent/Anne, the gay son of Vernon (Yosvany Reyes), a traditional man struggling with his son’s coming out, and the death of what a parent dreams before realizing their child has a mind of his own.
A critical incident in the family following the untimely illness and death of Vernon’s wife Shirley, Vincent’s mother, is the flash point. And what we learn is a cautionary tale about the importance of transcending toxic masculinity.
The triggering event in the present is Vincent/Anne making it to the finals of a “reality show” rag competition where Anne has become a finalist. Michelle (Tsebiyah Mishael Derry) is one of the show’s producers, the one who provides the filler queens (think feeder fish for a 1000 gallon tank), who is scrambling for backstory on this unexpected event for a media-hungry public and the more scandalous, the better.
Paulanne (Gretchen Reinhagen) is the member of the family who is the nexus of all information. Every family has that person whom everyone tells their everything to, and that’s the all-heart tell-me-I’m-listening philosopher and advice doyenne, the historian and keeper of the keys. She knows where ALL the skeletons lie. When we first meet Paulanne, she is the good soul, the unsung heart of every family, and you begin to see she not only hears, but listens. Reinhagen’s Paulanne is caring and disarming, analyzing how to say what each person needs to hear, as she gets her quid pro quo. Her conversation with Michelle begins to give us a portrait of Vincent, Vernon, and the family dynamic in Bob Ross fashion — it’s tidbits here and there that combine to give us a very big picture indeed. Those who know Ms. Reinhagen solely from her cabaret work are in for a real treat.
TOSOS Artistic Director Mark Finley directs this three-hander, providing a multi-faceted gem where we see that that love may still survive even after violent, angry acts. Paulanne could be a caricature in the wrong hands. Reinhagen gives us her full humanity along with a key personality. Derry’s Michelle works hard to give a dose of reality along with gathering material for a reality show, and ends up more deeply involved than she suspects. Reyes’ Vernon is a man on the precipice of understanding in many ways, and there’s a long way to go even then.
TJ Greenway’s sets are lavishly spare, abundant in detail and perfectly done, suggesting so much. Ben Philipp’s costumes are spot-on. Paulanne wears a turtle necklace in the first act that is a large piece and given that turtles are all about longevity, it tells us a lot about Paulanne and who she is to the family. Alex Denevers’ light design and Morry Campbell’s sound design are a one-two punch and you will leave the theatre with swirling thoughts of the complexity of the world, satisfied and not, all at the same time.
TOSOS, The Other Side of Silence, is a historic LGBTQIA+ company. House of Chavis had it’s world premiere at The Flea, 20 Thomas Street in NYC. The Siggy Theatre at The Flea is air conditioned and if you get another chance you owe it to yourself to see this show and others. More information is here: tososnyc.org/houseofchavis.