Theatre Review: The Clean House

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Presented by Stirling Players
Reviewed 22 September 2017

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is a quirky romantic dramedy centred around a Brazilian woman who wound up as a cleaner instead of a comedienne. The play is set in the household of married couple Lane (Josephine Pugh) and Charles (Peter Davies), both successful doctors. Living with them is a Brazilian house cleaner; Matilde (Andrea Freitas) who is depressed over the death of her parents and has stopped cleaning. Lane’s sister, Virginia (Jenny Penny), herself a compulsive cleaner, offers to secretly clean her sister’s house! Enter an Argentinian, Ana (Julie Quick), a terminal patient of Charles’s. Charles and Ana have discovered that they are each other’s soul mate, and the resultant emotional mess combines with the literal one.

In Stirling’s latest production, Director Kevin Burrett has assembled a stellar cast who seize the roles with fervour. As Mathilde, newcomer to the Australian stage Freitas is engaging and credible. She is animated and vibrant as she endeavours to bring comedy into a multitude of complex emotional situations in the search for the perfect joke. Pugh as Lane successfully navigates the path from entitled and righteous Doctor who “did not go to medical school to clean my own house” to a vulnerable, lonely and ultimately jilted wife who finds comfort and strength as she opens herself up to the intimacies of the relationships with the women in her life.

Virginia raises tidiness to sublime heights but despite the obvious comic elements of this character there is a seriousness captured well by Penny. We see the unhappiness behind Virginia’s dithery compulsion and her envy of her sister’s lifestyle. Penny takes us with her on the journey from the early consideration of the meaning of dust as a way of measuring progress in life to Virginia’s gradual realisation when sorting the ‘smalls’ in Lane’s laundry that everything in her sister’s world is not as pristine as the sterile environment suggests.

Davies as husband Charles is lovable and likeable despite the mess and chaos his infidelity creates. He is forgivable like a toddler that leaves crayon marks on the living room walls because they don’t know any better and simply can’t help themselves. Davies gets the biggest laugh out loud moment of the production when he shows up with an Alaskan Yew renowned for its healing properties, in an attempt to save the life of his soul mate, Ana, well played by Quick.

This is a wonderful piece of writing by Ruhl with the right combination of subtlety, poignancy and humour. Some of Burrett’s directional decisions are questionable, most notably the decision to provide captions on the screen behind the actors to introduce us to the characters – every time they appear on stage! It was also used to translate the jokes, which are told by Matilde in her native Portugese. Freitas provides enough facial expression; gestures and mannerisms for us to get the gist and having the translation added nothing to the production. It quickly becomes annoying and detracts from the intentional Portugese elements, especially given the last line of the show when Matilde reflects “I think heaven is a kind of sea of untranslatable jokes, except everyone is laughing.”

You may not die laughing but Ruhl’s play gives us hope in a messy world and demonstrates that we are all the better for embracing compassion, joy, and living as best we can within the chaos of our lives.

Review by Trish Francis

Venue: Stirling Community Theatre
Season: 22 September 2017 – 7th October 2017
Duration; 2 hours
Tickets: Adult $22, Conc. $18, Groups of 10+ $16
Bookings: http://www.stirlingplayers.sct.org.au/ or phone Stirling Players’ Ticketing 0414 075 413

 

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