Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Clean House

Also see John's review of Wonderful Town

Karina Barros (seated), Harriet Oser and Dennis Creaghan
The Caldwell Theatre presents The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. The Clean House had its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre in CT in 2004 and enjoyed an extended run at the Lincoln Center Theatre in 2006. Playwright Sarah Ruhl was a Pulitzer Prize-finalist for The Clean House in 2005. She received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2006, as well as the Helen Merrill Playwrights Award and the Whiting Writers' Award. Ruhl is the founder of the literary magazine One Factorial and the author of 10 other plays, including Eurydice, Dead Man's Cell Phone, Orlando, Melancholy Play and Demeter in the City.

This quirky comedy is the story of a successful, middle-aged married couple living in Connecticut. Both the husband, Charles, and the wife, Lane, are doctors with busy careers. They hire a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian live-in maid named Matilde. Though Matilde is attractive and energetic, she unfortunately hates to clean. She feels her calling is to be a comedian, and she is forever seeking the perfect joke. She recalls stories of her late parents who were, in her words, "the funniest two people in her country." In fact, she says that her mother actually died laughing from one of her father's jokes. To her, laughter is as essential as food and water. Some of her jokes, as in the opening of the show, are uttered in Portuguese. Though this is puzzling to the audience, perhaps this is explained in the closing scene of the show when she declares "heaven is a sea of untranslatable jokes - only everyone is laughing"!

What does one do with a housekeeper that doesn't like to clean? Fortunately, Lane's sister Virginia loves to clean. She finds purpose in order and cleanliness. She really is searching to just be needed and appreciated amidst a passionless life of great predictability. She finds she is indeed needed by her sister Lane when Charles announces he is leaving Lane for one of his own patients, Ana. Charles, Lane and Ana struggle with an awkward relationship when Charles insists they must all get to know one another. Through it all, Lane still loves Charles, and when she is perplexed by how this could be, Matilde declares "Love isn't clean like that, love is dirty - like a good joke."

The character of Matilde is written as the lead in a sitcom. She is innocent while provocative, and both simple and somehow wise. She is a sort of cross between Charo and Fran Drescher in "The Nanny". It is very easy to imagine Matilde being written into another play by Sarah Ruhl, as she represents the best part of Ruhl's The Clean House. The jokes in Portuguese that are never explained or translated are chaff to the plot. Ruhl uses unexplored imagery and symbolism in one of her scenes: Ana and Matilde throw apples into the ocean off the balcony of Ana's home; they fall through the ceiling of Lane's living room miles away. No one ever mentions it in any way. There is also one odd moment early in the play when Lane and Virginia lapse into what can only be described as their childish inner-voice being heard aloud. The transition into and out of this moment is framed with lighting changes, and is clearly happening in their heads and not in real time. However, the technique is never again employed elsewhere in the show. It is surprising that this humorous but unsubstantial play would have merited such attention as it seems the work of a fledgling writer.

Karina Barros is refreshingly impish as Matilde. Director Michael Hall is lucky to have found in her a gem that fits the setting of this play so well. Cary Anne Spears, who plays Virginia, is a bit stiff and unnatural at times. While her character may be a tad tense and compulsive, those qualities should still come from an organic place. Pat Nesbit and Dennis Creaghan are both fine actors, though their roles in this show are not as meaty as one would like. Harriet Oser is perfectly lovely as Ana. She manages to make Ana tranquil and without any agenda. This really is the only way the character works believably as "the other woman," allowing you to like both her and Charles, and Lane. The set is a living room done in appealing white and cream tones accented by silver. It is by no accident that designer Tim Bennett has supplied a look that is very clean without being cold. It fits the author's message to us that a clean and orderly life/house may not be as cherished as one filled with the clutter of a life/house used for the fullest enjoyment of each moment.

Production dates for The Clean House are April 8, 2007 - May 20, 2007. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. They are located at 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487-1640 in the Levitz Plaza. Look for the theatre's long awaited relocation to their new space in the North Boca Village Center , where it will be housed in the Count de Hoernle Theatre. Their scheduled opening at their new location is December 2, 2007. For tickets and information, you may contact the Caldwell by phone at 561-241-7432 or visit them online at:

Matilde: Karina Barros*
Lane: Pat Nesbit*
Virginia: Cary Anne Spear*
Charles: Dennis Creaghan*
Ana; Harriet Oser*

Director: Michael Hall
Scenic Design: Tim Bennett
Lighting Design: John Hall
Sound Design: Sean Lawson
Costume Design: Erin Amico
Stage Manager: Molly Elizabeth McCarter*

*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Photo: Sigvision

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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