Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Clean House and La Bohème

Mixed Blood Theatre The Clean House

Karen Landry, Lisa Clair and Hollis Resnik
During the opening moments of The Clean House, the audience is treated to a joke. Unless you speak Portuguese, however, you will not understand it, as it is told by the home's Brazilian maid Matilde, in her native tongue. In the end, the words don't matter. We get the gist (by her body language, it seems that Matilde is telling a dirty joke) and are able to laugh by filling in the blanks.

The Clean House is about five characters trying to fill in the blanks of lives they don't quite understand. From Sarah Ruhl's solid script and the fine and steady direction from Stan Wojewodski, Jr., the five actors build tremendous performances, making the play a sometimes messy, but always engaging and often moving experience.

Through the play, we follow Lane (Hollis Resnik), her sister Virginia (Karen Landry), her husband Charles (Stephen Yoakam) and the woman Charles leaves Lane for, Ana (Olivia Lawrence). The anchor of all of this is Matilde (Lisa Rafaela Clair), who has moved to the United States from her homeland after her parents died. Matilde is Lane's maid, but she hates housework and instead wants to create the world's funniest joke. As the show's twists and turns play out, it is her personality and quest that tie the characters together. It's a testament to the quality of the script and the actors that a plot device first used in a Monty Python sketch packs such an emotional wallop by show's end.

Ruhl isn't afraid to go off on tangents, and the mood of the script sometimes approaches the surreal. Yet it never becomes too precious for its own good. Much of that is due to the hard work put in by all of the performers, who craft deep and complete characters and then are willing to not just share those characters with the audience, but with each other as well. This creates a near-perfect ensemble. The Clean House is worth seeing in any production for its intriguing script that comments on modern society without being didactic. This production of The Clean House should be seen for the quintet of thrilling performances that truly bring Ruhl's script to life.

The Clean House runs through Nov. 18 at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call 612-338-6131 or visit

Photo: Ann Marsden

Theatre Latté Da La Bohème

Here's another example of not understanding a word that is said (or sung, in this case) but understanding everything else about the story, the characters and their deep emotions. While it is easy to be cynical about Puccini's opera in the post-Rent world, his work about the dreams of young artists and the deep pains of love can still carry an audience.

It helps to have the able team at Theatre Latté Da on the production. Director Peter Rothstein has mounted an intimate, small-scale production that has more grandeur and weight than the epic productions of the show I have seen in the past. Rothstein moves the story from the 19th to the mid 20th century - just before and after the fall of Paris to the Nazis, in fact. The setting doesn't get in the way of the story, and adds a bit of weight to some of the carefree antics of the Bohemians (one wears the yellow Star of David in the second act). Not only is the staging more intimate, but so is the music. A small orchestra, featuring a number of traditional street instruments, provides the music.

In the end, La Bohème centers on the two pairs of lovers, and the performers in those roles give exquisite turns in the show. James Howes as Rodolfo has all the passion of a young Parisian lover, while Meghann Schmidt makes Mimi both fragile and strong - a character who is confident in her life, but wants something more. Meanwhile, Nathan Brian's Marcello struts with a fiery intensity that is only matched by Jill Sandager's Musetta, who first comes off as a noir-ish ingenue, but quickly evolves into someone with greater fire and depth than her lover.

The balance of the cast give fine performances as well, not just singing with clarity and deep emotion, but truly acting - something that is often missed in opera.

La Bohème runs through November 18 at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis. For more information, call 612.340.1725 or visit www.theaterLatté

- Ed Huyck

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