‘THE CLEAN HOUSE’ MAKES IRONING AND FOLDING CLOTHES A SHAKESPEAREAN EXPERIENCE
A messy home headed by an unfriendly Doctor, and a house cleaner who dislikes cleaning and is a stand up comic seeking the greatest joke in the world . Some laundry does get ironed and folded in Sarah Ruhl’s dark comedy THE CLEAN HOUSE now on stage at the Altarena through September 8th. Accomplished director Jacqui Herrera says this story is an allegory “this play is about how we humans desperately try to control the forces of life, death and love.” Herrera directed this production with humor and grace with a cast that embraced the quirky nuances of Ruhl's characters. It's about the beauty, and the chaos of life, love, death, laughter with cancer the looming darkside of this story.
THE CLEAN HOUSE earned playwright Sarah Ruhl her first recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005. Ruhl's lyrical comedy has been produced at some of the nation's top regional theatres leading THE CLEAN HOUSE to tie as the second most produced play in the 2008 American theatre season. Including at the East Bay’s CCCT stage in 2014. Ruhl's ability to write her work with no exposition and still be able to make her characters act and sound human while dealing with larger-than-life issues sets her ahead of other playwrights.
The Home is all dressed in shades of white but needs some order. The high end home is somewhere in metaphysical Connecticut. Dr Lane, played by the superb Marsha Harrison,who is an accomplished, grumpy, confident, woman of medicine who values cleanliness. She is repressed beyond measure, controlling to the point of being out of control. "I'm sorry, but I did not go to medical school to house clean," she says through tight lips. Dr Lane has hired a live-in maid, Matilde, played by the terrific Janelle Aguirre who would rather tell a good joke than clean and mop. She is the emotional opposite of Lane and adds the clever humor to this story.
The maid, Matilde, is an out of work comedienne from Brazil who has lost both her parents and goes to work for Dr Lane as a housekeeper only to realize cleaning bathrooms and folding other peoples laundry makes her depressed. The maid meets Virginia, Lane's sister who is repressed and she loves to clean — that's how she makes order of her unhappy life. Virginia offers up her services to Matilde with the goal of helping Matilde's depression while doing her sisterly duty of checking in with Lane's mental state.
Aguirre as Matilde is a joyful distraction who tells jokes in Portuguese and still makes the audience that doesn't understand a word she said laugh. Matilde wears black, and is mourning for her mother who died laughing, and her father, who shot himself when his wife died. It gets darker later in the second act when cancer becomes a real villain. Lanes’s husband, Charles, played by the dapper Louis Schilling has fallen deeply in love with a patient. Ana, is Charles “basherte” an older woman from Argentina tenderly portrayed by Adriana Palhares. A basherte is a jewish term for soulmate and in their tradition a married couple can leave each other if their “basherte” comes along late in life.
The cast is delightful, and the craft team is keen including a white washed living room set by designer Craig Cutting and Randal Smith. The smooth clean lighting by Peet Cocke also has to convey a trip to Alaska and an ocean side villa, including a roving spot light for the maid’s comic standup sessions. The props by Susan Dunn are busy with baskets of clothes to fold, and the loving couple has to toss fruit from their balcony. Later a hospital bed and medical gear take center stage. Adriana Gutierrez’ costumes keep the maid in all black and Dr Lane in grey tones, and Virgina in soft pastels. Ana is the most colorful and Dr Charels is fitted for his journey to Alaska. Stage managers Cameron King and Sabrina Serna keep the cast on cue with their many entrances from all four isles and sound designer Simon Liu created some excellent mood music for the opening and close of the two act two hour play.
Director Letheule portrays Lane's and Matilde’s distracted friendship perfect in the underwear challenge. Both Matilde and Virgina discover Lane’s secrets as they fold the families underwear. Ruhl's "cleaning house" metaphor is full of compassion with beautifully realized characters, and some emotion that is gentle enough to bring you from tears to laughter within just a few lines. Next up at Altarena Playhouse is Steve Martin's PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE that opens October 4th and BRIAN COPELAND returns for two shows September 20 and 21. But in the meantime “GO SEE” THE CLEAN HOUSE, it demonstrates how a play can be entertaining and resonate on a deeper level afterward.
ALTARENA PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
THE CLEAN HOUSE
by Sarah Ruhl,
Directed by Jacqui Herrera
Must Close September 8, 2019
Alameda Altarena Theatre,
1409 High St. Alameda Ca.
Two Acts with intermission - 2 hours
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Photo’s by Jim Norrena
THE CAST Janelle Aguirre, Marsha Harrison, Adriana Palhares, Janette Sarmiento, and Louis Schilling
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