After a successful run for playRites, ATP returns to their cornerstone series with The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. Filled with laughter and heartfelt emotion, the show is one of the best ones I have seen in Calgary theatre this season.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” is the mantra for successful doctor Lane, played by Marie Stillin. She likes a clean house, unfortunately Lane’s housekeeper Matilde (Carmen Aguirre) is still grieving the loss of her parents, “The funniest people in Brazil” and doesn’t feel like cleaning. Lane’s sister Virginia (Valerie Ann Pearson) has a solution, striking a deal with Matilde to clean the house in secret. The discovery of some rather non-Lane style undergarments are the first clues to what will unfold in the second half of the show.
It is in the second half that the show truly comes together, as the first act built up subtly to the climax and left the audience hanging anxiously for the second part. It is there where Lane’s life falls apart when her husband Charles (Brian Dooley) introduces his soulmate Ana (Kyra Harper) to the group. This is truly one of the funniest scenes in the show as Charles explains his reasoning. From there, the characters fight, love, and come to understanding and friendship.
While Sarah Ruhl’s script is well written and hilarious, it is not something that would work without an extremely talented cast. ATP Artistic Director Bob White has chosen this cast perfectly; each has grasped what makes their character tick. Stillen’s portrayal of the uptight Lane is flawless – she has the ability to translate her feelings to the audience with just a look or movement. Aguirre’s Matilde is brilliant – she is over the top in all the right ways and her jokes and comments are some of the brightest spots in the show. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission, and on top of that you add the rest of the cast! These two over the top characters are balanced out by the other dysfunctional but more subdued characters. It’s the perfect blend.
I’m not going to give away too many other plot points because what makes The Clean House stand out is how the story unfolds and the heart that it contains. Behind the multiple stomach-grabbing laughs is a really pure and genuine story that makes you think, and will elicit a lot of strong emotional reactions. You end up genuinely liking these characters despite their many flaws, because our flaws are what make us human.
Sometimes a great theatrical experience comes from an unexpected route. Sometimes it is strong voices in a musical, a stunning performance in a one-person show, the art of puppetry or a big sweeping storyline. The Clean House has none of these but I would put up what I saw in this show against anything else I have ever raved about.
Go and see this show - you’ll understand what I mean when it’s over.
Alberta Theatre Projects presents
“The Clean House”
March 28th – April 15th, 2006