Regional Reviews: Boston
When Adelina interviews to be a housekeeper for Charlie Frey, a middle-aged man who recently lost his wife, she insists on working twenty hours a weekshe needs the money, and the house needs her. On the job, Adelina meets Carson, his dead wife, who warns her not to use bleach in the laundry, or any other toxic chemicals. She's worried this new woman will change the home she managed so carefully. "You don't seem surprised I'm talking to you ... You do know I'm dead," Carson says, and Adelina replies, "It's happened before."
Adelina is the only one who sees Carson, and over time she becomes the conduit between the departed mother and her family. At first, Charlie and his daughter Kaila only communicate by bellowing across the house; Charlie never knows where Kaila is or what she's eating. For a fourteen-year-old girl, Kaila seems trapped in adolescence. She has a typical teenage infatuation with a boy, but she's also obsessed with Hello Kitty, even sparring with Adelina about having to wash her favorite ratty Hello Kitty shirt. Alexis Scheer makes sense of this complicated young girl, playing her juvenile behavior like a front for her true maturity.
Outside of seeing spirits, Adelina is not written as a mystic or magical healer. She is a mother herself, a proud Latina woman, with a keen ability to read others' emotions. In childhood, her mother insisted her greatest power was within the four walls of the home, and after her father's death, Adelina started her life's vocation managing other people's houses. She has great pride in her work, in keeping order. Margarita Martinez is impressive as Adelina, an empathetic presence that gives warmth to the play. But Martinez doesn't shy from her character's bitterness either, as she regrets the choices she's forced to make for her own son.
Charlie, the father and husband, is an outsider in his own house. He's not domestic, and he doesn't know what Kaila does or even if she eats. But because Charlie is so unengaged, his part feels underdeveloped. After a big revelation about his wife, his change in behavior is minimal: he barely mentions this information again. As played by Dale J. Young, the father seems uncomfortable in his own skin. He hides behind forced small talk and jokes, which sometimes hint at a sexual interest in Adelina that goes unresolved. Whether that's the writing or performance, I'm not sure.
The play is really about the women and the importance of the matriarch. Fresh Ink Theatre worked with Ginger Lazarus to develop this play from a reading and workshop to the production currently at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, directed by Shana Gozansky. Actress Gillian Mackay-Smith has been involved throughout the show's development, and she brings a frankness and occasional humor to Carson that makes her ghost seem as human as the others. It helps that Lazarus's writing is smartly understated. Only one scene near the end pushes the play's reserved emotions too far, in a cathartic breakdown that, to me, feels unearned.
The Housekeeper is best when it explores the feminine energy shared by the three women. We see many chores over the play, from folding clothes to cooking dinner. Through these everyday tasks, we come to understand the individual ways these women grieve. When we mourn, these rituals can be a cruel reminder of a lost mother, or a way of healing and communicating for family members who've forgotten how. In Ginger Lazarus's play, we must all find ways to keep order, in life and in death.
The Housekeeper is presented by Fresh Ink Theatre Company. The play runs through January 30, 2016, at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased at freshinktheatre.org or at 866-811-4111.
Directed by Shana Gozansky, Dramaturg: Sara Brookner, Assistant Director: Zachary Rice, Stage Manager: George Page, Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl, Lighting Design by Emily Bearce, Sound Design by Darren Evans, Prop Design by Gabriel Graetz.