Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
The Clean House
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed By Russell Mack
The Clean House is a quirky imaginative comedy about dust, life and love. It opens with “Matilde” who is a Brazilian housekeeper, telling us a long incomprehensible joke in Portuguese. All the best jokes (she tells us later) are impossible to understand. Matilde works for career-driven “Lane” and is supposed to clean the house. But she hates cleaning and would rather spend her time searching for the perfect joke. Fortunately Lane’s sister “Virginia” loves to clean because it brings meaning to her otherwise empty life, so she enters into a secret pact with Matilde. Virginia will keep dust and disorder at bay, while Matilde hopes to die laughing.
Russell Mack and his team bring a light touch to this oddball play. Amaranta Santos is wonderful as Matilde, with body language and facial expressions that constantly move and entertain us. Candace Luciano is the perfect foil as Lane, a highly organized and uptight doctor who tells us that she went to medical school so she didn’t have to clean her own house. That seems fair enough, but craziness soon begins to dissolve her carefully organized world. Patteye Simpson is very good as the chronically depressed Virginia, in cahoots with Matilde, and actually becomes more cheerful in spite of, or perhaps because of the encroaching chaos.
Meanwhile Lane’s husband “Charles” announces that he has fallen in love with 67- year-old “Ana.” Charles is a surgeon, and has just performed a mastectomy on Ana in hopes of staving off her breast cancer. It was love at first incision. Peter Luciano is suitably earnest as Charles – he has found his soulmate and wants everyone to be one big happy family. Later, when Ana’s cancer returns, he goes on a crazy mission to Alaska to find a yew tree that might cure her. Ana is played with some skill by first-time actor Tracy Foy – she actually has to die on stage, which usually happens in operas while singing an aria. Here she has just heard the perfect joke.
Is there a deeper meaning to all this? I don’t know, and maybe the author doesn’t either, but it makes for a highly entertaining piece of theater. There’s a surreal quality to the play, and a sort of Greek fatalism that the gods, up there on Mount Olympus, like to play tricks on us poor mortals. The actors enjoy themselves and that enjoyment is transmitted to the audience. This was a courageous choice of play by LLT, and it could easily have gone off the rails, but that didn’t happen. Instead we saw a thoroughly professional production – well-done, Russell Mack and the entire cast and backstage team. Debra Bowers was Stage Manager and Deborah Elder was Production Assistant.
So ends Season 53, a highly varied and successful season. Next month I will preview the interesting plays that have just been announced for Season 54.
Column: Front Row Center
Michael Warren grew up in London, England and lived on Baker Street very close to where Sherlock Holmes hung out his shingle. He graduated with an Honors degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, which no doubt helps him to balance his check book. While a student, he edited a humorous magazine entitled “ffobia” which was widely circulated amongst his friends.