Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

ACT Theatre Sprints into Spring with
The Clean House

Anne Allgood and Christine Calfas
There could hardly be a more delightfully quirky show to start off ACT Theatre's fall season than playwright Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House. Directed with invention, relish and pizazz by Alison Narver (former artistic director of the not long deceased and sorely missed Empty Space), The Clean House is not a show you want to give away the secrets of in a review, so there will not be many, if any, spoilers here.

Ruhl sets her play in the impeccably tidy, appropriately antiseptic home of Charles and Lane, a pair of frightfully well off MDs. Lane has recently acquired the services of a vibrant, young Portuguese woman, Matilde, coping with the recent loss of her parents. Matilde hates housework, and wants to do stand up comedy, using her parents' own joie de vivre as inspiration.

Lane has a less affluent sister, Virginia, whose penchant for housekeeping borders on a mania. She meets and bonds with Matilde and offers to clean Lane's house in Matilde's place. Meanwhile, Lane's husband Charles has left her for Ana, a cancer patient upon whom he has performed a mastectomy. Where Lane is an ice queen, the Latina Ana is like a warm breeze. Charles wants them all to get along. Lane is appalled. She fires Matilde after learning of her deal with Virginia, but when Ana and Charles ask her to come live with them, Lane reneges, and finally Matilde ends up living with Ana and Charles, splitting her time between the households. This is the jist of Ruhl's story, though a mid-act-two twist is better seen than described. Suffice to say the play gains in richness as its plot grows more fantastical, and Narver's rich direction and incredibly happy casting make it the play that it should be.

Once again, like a pitcher who never misses hitting one out of the park, actress Anne Allgood, in the deliciously well textured role of Virginia, delivers a performance that elicits every laugh, smile and tear you could ask for. As her polar opposite sister Lane, Suzanne Bouchard delivers her pained reactions to all that is going on around her with unerring panache, and Seattle may not have another actress who can deliver a zinger of a put down or a snappy retort than she. Christine Calfas as Matilde more than holds her own in this esteemed company, making a strong first entrance telling a joke in Portuguese (and you don't have to know the language); she beguiles throughout the play. Matilde's memories of her beloved parents are related in movement and dance by Allen Fitzpatrick and Priscilla Hake Lauris, who then reappear in act two as Lane's amiable cheating husband Charles and his new love Ana. Lauris has never been seen to better advantage in past Seattle stage appearances. Her Ana is a warm, strong woman who even earns Lane's grudging respect, and Fitzpatrick is endearing as a man who finally finds his soulmate and is willing to go quite nearly to the ends of the earth to keep her with him.

Matthew Smucker's ingenious set design manages to create both Lane's home and Ana's sea-view balcony to simultaneous smashing effect, and Michael Wellborn's lighting design heightens the surreal aspects of the story admirably. Frances Kenny's costumes help showcase the differences in each of the characters quite astutely, and sound designer/composer Eric Chappelle creates the perfect aural complement.

The Clean House runs through April 29, 2007 at ACT Theatre. 700 Union Street, downtown Seattle. For more information go to ACT on-line at

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

Photo: Craig Schwartz

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