Written and directed by Iris Rose
Created and performed by Chazz Dean, Kurt Fulton, Kim X Knowlton, Melanie Monios, Iris Rose, James Siena, and Maggie Siena

The Pyramid Club, NYC      September 1983

Additional performances:
October 1983 – Terminal Show, Brooklyn, NY (excerpts)
November 1983 – Franklin Furnace, NYC
February 1984 – The Pyramid Club, NYC
July 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Gates of Dawn, NYC (excerpt)
September 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Darinka, NYC (excerpt)
April/May 1987 – Watchface: The Spring ’87 Collection, La MaMa, NYC

House of Jahnke
Prologue: Maria
Parados: House of Jahnke
Episode 1: Dinner Table
November 16
The Trial

House of Jahnke was based on the true story of a middle-class family in Wyoming whose
16-year-old son murdered his abusive father with the encouragement and support of his
17-year-old sister. Iris Rose discovered their story in Rolling Stone magazine and adapted it
into the first show to include all seven members of what was to become Watchface. It was
also the first created specifically for the Pyramid Club, the site of many of their early shows,
including National Enquirer, Negotiations, Camden, Boys Will Be Men, and Stereotype.

For Iris, the Janhkes’ story of a brother and sister planning their father’s murder immediately
brought to mind Orestes and Elektra plotting their mother’s death in plays by all three of the
great Greek tragedians. Iris was inspired to loosely apply the traditions of Greek tragedy to
the staging of House of Jahnke not only because of the story’s resemblance to the ancient
House of Atreus, but also because the conventions of Greek theater were useful for
performing at the Pyramid Club, where it could be a challenge to be heard over the
alcohol-fueled crowd. In classic Greek tragedy, the main characters – always limited to
three – wore masks with built-in megaphones in front of their mouths to project their voices to
the large, outdoor amphitheater crowds, an ancient form of amplification. The other actors
formed a chorus and spoke in unison, thus multiplying their voices, another solution to the
same problem.

In House of Janhke, the family members were masked (though there were four rather than the
classic three central characters of Greek tradition), but the chorus members were not. The
masks were commercially-made Halloween masks, a distinctly American choice, but since
they did not have built-in megaphones, the family members generally spoke directly into
stand microphones. masks The chorus, of course, spoke primarily in unison. The costumes
were thrift shop garments chosen to represent the specific characters, but also to project a
synthetic-clad image of suburban America.

The collaborators that Iris assembled included all of the cast members from her previous
show, 1984: The Future Repeats Itself – Chazz Dean, Kurt Fulton, Melanie Monios, and James
Siena – with the addition of James’ sister Maggie Siena and his friend Kim X Knowlton, who
had both recently moved to New York City. James portrayed Richard Janhke, Sr., the
violent IRS agent father and Maggie was his abused Puerto Rican wife. Chazz and Iris played
the siblings: Richie, the ROTC cadet who struggled to do the right thing, and Deborah, who
read psychology books to try to understand her dysfunctional family. Kim, Kurt, and
Melanie, serving as the chorus, represented various members of the community, such as
neighbors and lawyers.

House of Jahnke covered as much of the actual story as possible, though in a highly
condensed form, in about twenty minutes – the length of time that Iris decided was about the
maximum length of time a Pyramid Club audience would be able to focus on a narrative.
outline with time budget

The show began with a prologue based on an article Iris found in People magazine in which
Maria, the mother of the family, shockingly stated, “My son has freed me,” and thanked her
neighbors for taking her to aerobics classes after her husband’s death. Maggie as Maria, in
a battered, vintage, starched gauze mask, performed the prologue alone in a single light as
the other performers waited along the back wall and the opposite side of the stage.
Prologue: Maria script

In Parados: House of Jahnke, with the stage fully lit and the entire cast now visible, the chorus
brought the audience up to speed on the Jahnke family’s story prior to their move to
Wyoming – specifically, to a housing development called Cowboy Country. The four family
members, spread out across the stage, performed various tasks that introduced the
audience to their characters, while the chorus stood perpendicular, viewing the family with
an omniscient detachment. For the final part of Parados: House of Jahnke, all seven cast
members stood side-by-side across the front of the stage and performed an ode to the
housing tract Cowboy Country in unison with identical gestures.
Parados: House of Jahnke script

Next was a series of very brief scenes of everyday life in the Jahnke home, culminating with
an episode depicting a true event in the Jahnkes’ story: Richard Sr. decided that the family’s
silverware was too noisy, so he forced them to eat with their hands, and decreed that
henceforth they would all eat with plastic forks and spoons. This was followed by Teenagers,
in which Richie and Deborah described the difficulties of their daily lives, with the chorus
portraying their teenage peers. Teenagers script

Everything up to this point established the “normal” life of the family, but Sunday depicted the
events and consequences of a particularly bad day for the Jahnkes that started the eventual
tragic events in motion. After a savage beating from his father, Richie finally confided his
situation to his ROTC instructor at school, who reported the case to the authorities. At this
point, Chazz replaced his baby-faced mask with one showing a bandaged, suffering face.
When child services, portrayed by the entire chorus, appeared unexpectedly at the Jahnke
home, they saw nothing amiss since the parents were on their best behavior. They
concluded the visit by saying “You certainly have a beautiful home.”

The early scenes of November 16, named for the day of the crime, showed the fragile, false
“happy family” façade disintegrating in a series of still tableaux. After another violent
incident, Richie and Deborah, who’d been left home alone together, made their decision to
murder their father. The section continued with their preparations, and concluded with the
murder and the teens’ escape.

The Trial, in which the chorus played the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge,
included actual testimony from Richard Jahnke, Jr.’s trial for his father’s murder. The climax
of the section was an impassioned chant by the chorus:

Violence begets violence. Thousands of parents, thousands of children. Richard and
Maria begat Richard and Deborah. Shall the state take the place of the father?
Richard and Maria begat violence and violence begat Richard and Deborah. Where
will the chain of crime end?

The show ended with a prayer from Maria:

Dear God in heaven, about that man before you, the one who was once my husband,
the father of my children, may his soul rot in hell!

The audience reception for House of Jahnke was extremely positive, especially among the
Pyramid Club staff. In a magazine interview not long after the performance, Pyramid Club
manager Bobby Bradley offered House of Jahnke as an example of both the quality and the
diversity of performances that were being presented there. The show also received a
favorable review from Thomas McEvilley in Artforum in December 1983:

While the seven players spoke they engaged in complex, precisely choreographed
dance movements in place. They could not have been better rehearsed; text and
choreography were thoughtfully composed and flawlessly executed. The pacing was
ferociously fast, and the quality of concentration was far beyond what one usually feels
in this most ebullient of performance spaces. I think the audience was surprised at how
immediately and intensely it responded to Rose’s simultaneously witty and somber work.

House of Jahnke had a return engagement at the Pyramid Club in February 1984 after a
performance at Franklin Furnace in November 1983. “Cowboy Country” was later performed
as part of Watchface’s Greatest Hits, created in 1986 to celebrate the official founding – and
naming – of Watchface. The video of Watchface’s Greatest Hits that was shot at the Gates of
Dawn performance includes the only recording of House of Jahnke; this was also true of many
of the other shows represented. Gates of Dawn program Watchface’s Greatest Hits was
repeated later that year at Darinka, Darinka flyer and the entire House of Jahnke was
revived the next year as part of Watchface: The Spring ’87 Collection at La MaMa, which
included nine different shows, both old and new. La MaMa listing