Category Archive for: ‘Guest Review’

Clean House 588x266

This Clean House Makes Cleaning Magic

“The Clean House,” by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by JoAnne Winter
Presented at the Ross Valley Barn, June 6, 2015

The play opens in a clean house and ends in a house that totally trashed. .. but that is what magic will do. It’s not so much that magic confuses issues of cleanliness and organization; it’s just that magic inspires people to consider love and communication over rationality and control.

The Clean House opened at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2004. It has received many nominations and awards while travelling extensively in the US, Canada and the UK. Billed as a romantic comedy, it deals with love and relationships as a background to serious issues of illness and love, in ways that are both whimsical and powerful.

Matilde (Livia Demarchi) is a Brazilian live-in maid who thinks of herself as a comedienne, and, for various reasons, cannot clean without becoming depressed. She works for Lane (Sylvia Burboeck), a doctor who does not have time to clean, but insists upon a clean house. Lane’s sister, Virginia (Tamar Cohn) has too much time on her hands and cleans her own house daily. Eventually, Virginia agrees to clean Lane’s
house too, while Matilde tells jokes and philosophizes.

The set is simple and effective, with a single room having an interesting background for projecting text and notes for english translations of Portuguese jokes and conversations, and a life-size diorama to bring thought sequences in any language to life. The music appropriately brings joy and romance to life with its vital Brazilian strains, while occasionally soaring with operatic eternity for magical sequences.

Two characters from the diorama step onto the stage to become part of the play at the end of the first act. This is a dramatic shift that works for the audience. Steve Price becomes Charles, Lane’s husband, another doctor who has brought home some rather shocking underwear to inspire questions. Sumi Narendran becomes Ana, Charles’ patient. It turns out that Charles is having an affair with Ana, and wants to leave
Lane. We start the second act with Charles bringing Ana home to meet the family.

If it sounds complex, it is. Suffice it to say, this is when the magic of the show really begins. There are life and death situations with Sumi Narendran coming onboard as Ana, who also speaks Portuguese and finds a true friend in Matilde. Laughter is never too far from home with this play, even though cancer becomes a major part of the play. The mystical becomes real, the metaphysical becomes physical, and we come to see new aspects to relationships that work because of love.

Livia Demarchi, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, opens the play as Matilde with a joke that nobody can understand, but everyone understands because of the physical portrayal. Her attitudes and nuances make her character a joy to watch. She is not so much understandable, as believable in her choices. Sure, her life is in the jokes that her family told and she tells now, but not in keeping a clean house. Just because she is a live-in maid doesn’t make it so. And so we watch as she moves, with help from her adopted family, through the story to its striking conclusion.

Sylvia Burboeck, as Lane, is neurotic throughout the play, not breaking character even in the crises that ensue. She is the perfect complement to Matilde and understandable from doctors we have known in our lives. This is a tough act to play and one cast well with Sylvia. She is “in control” through the play and we see how this control changes so realistically as she copes.

Tamar Cohn is bright, fast and neat. As Virginia, she can clean a house in 90 minutes flat, with time to organize the table decorations. We could not ask for a better light to play on the unfolding story. She is critical and yet supportive, encouraging and motivating. Who else would we want as an intimate sister family member in our trials? Tamar plays the part well and I’m glad she has come back to Marin for

Sumi Narendran, as Ana, is a dream and, in fact, walks down from the dream to become a very vital part of this story. She is able to communicate effectively with Matilde in her language (with an Argentinean accent, no less) and enjoy the jokes with us. She is the “other woman” that falls in love in spite of herself and condition. Sumi has acted in small, though memorable, parts before, but this part is striking and shows her dramatic abilities.

Steve Price, as Charles, is likeable though a little scattered. He leaves his wife for another woman, but not just for sex. He has found love in the operating theatre of the hospital and wants to share the love with his family. The idea might be unbelievable, but here is where we have to suspend disbelief and let the story unfold. Can the universe be so forgiving and encompassing? Steve plays a good part and travels well.

Director JoAnne Winter has done a wonderful job with this play. As we all know, the casting is 75 percent of the rehearsing on any play, and she was perfect. All her characters are clearly defined and consistent. Her staging makes the magic possible on this stage. Perhaps her work with children through her own company, Word for Word, has primed her for this challenging play. Surely her understanding of the material
helped her to get the actors to understand it too, and they do. All in all, JoAnne has taken a difficult script and made it into a worthwhile play that hits the heart in the right places.

Ross Valley Players does an excellent job with this complex play. Their staging leaves the “clean” behind as emotions are released to deal with and accept the emerging situations. The actors expand to fill the parts they are assigned; they breathe emotional life into their roles. As in all good theatre, we are changed in some vital way at the end of the play. We know more about love and death. Matilde’s last line is “I think heaven is a sea of untranslatable jokes, except everyone is laughing.” We certainly are understanding.
Gary Gonser

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