Carlsbad, CA—Because Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” will only be playing through Oct. 26th (let’s hope it is extended) I am going to urge you now, right off the bat, not to miss it.
There’s something magical in Ruhl’s writing because we never know where the playwright is going to take us. “The Clean House” opens with a five-minute joke …in Portuguese. And that’s no joke.
Ms. Ruhl, a playwright of some importance, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone”, “Eurydice” and The Vibrator Play” (and those are shows seen in San Diego) is seriously funny. She won a Pulitzer Prize along with the Susan Smith Blackburn prize for Best Play by a Female Playwright. “The Clean House” is whimsical, witty, wacky, wicked, and emotionally heartfelt. And…She is wise beyond her years, as you will learn at show’s end.
The set up is as follows: Lane (Kristianne Kurner) and Charles (Tom Deák) are both doctors who met in Med. School. Theirs is not what one would call a close relationship at present. He works all the time and she manages to get home once in a while.
Home (Brian Redfern designed an all white furniture living room with Plexiglas and glass tables, white rug, magazines and a white vase. A step or two up leads to a front door that we do not see and another door leads off to the side leads to other parts of the house) is stark, a rather sterile looking place that is need of constant cleaning up. Lane confesses that she did not go to Med. School ‘to clean my own house’.
Lane’s cleaning girl Matilde (Nadia Guevara) hates to clean. When we meet her she is depressed about having to clean someone else’s house but loves to tell jokes. Her mother died laughing at one of her father’s jokes. Virginia, (Hannah Logan) is Lanes sister. She is a compulsive cleaner. “Those who give up cleaning their own houses are insane” (Please commit me!) She even wanted to sweep up old ruins of an archeological finding. “If you don’t clean: how do you know you’ve any progress in life?”
Virginia convinces Matilde to let her come and clean Lane’s house while Matilde searches out the ‘perfect joke’ and still collects her paycheck from Lane. While folding the laundry one afternoon, both women discover some suspicious looking underwear in the basket. You guessed it. Charles has a lover. Badda Bing!
Ana (Catalina Maynard) and Charles fall in love after Charles, her surgeon, diagnosed her with having breast cancer. He will perform the surgery, sooner rather than later as per her wishes. What follows is a beautiful ritual finding them singing a medieval love song in Latin about being medically cured by love.
Feeling empowered and in love after a successful surgery, Charles brings Ana home for a kumbayah moment. Over the objections of Lane, who doesn’t seem to ‘get it’ she almost goes ballistic. Funny thing, both Virginia and Matilde, do.
Sitting on their all too lily white living room sofa, trying to explain it, Ana says, “There’s a midrash that says when a baby is forty days old in its mothers stomach, God picks out his soul mate, and people have to spend the rest of their lives running around to find their mates”. “We have found ours”. In other words, they have met their Beshert! Appalled, Lane snaps back, “You’re not even Jewish!” Badda Boom!
To say that things go from bad to worse would undermine the telling of Ruhl’s play. In fact things go from weird to weirder, from reality to fantasy from an underlying need to come to grips with one’s life, or ‘clean house’ to the empathy needed to allow it to happen. How it all comes about is at the crux of the play that you need to see to believe. With three very strong women, each inspiring in her own right, Ruhl’s “The Clean House” is in perfectly capable hands.
Ion’s co founder and artistic director Claudio Raygoza was tapped to direct Ruhl’s play at New Village Arts and that was another brilliant move. Raygoza has just the right touch and is just the right coach for this perfect cast. He has worked with Ms. Maynard, who has also been in several shows at Ion under Raygoza’s leadership and never have I seen her in a less than commanding performance.
As Ana she simply transforms from patient to lover, to discoverer of life in such a seamless transition that its hardly noticeable, just real life playing out. She is warm, engaging and so convincing that you almost forget she is a character in a play.
Later, embracing Ana as she does helps tone down the hard edges of Lane’s outer crust and brings reconciliation and change that in anothers hands might look unfathomable. Both women are pros and know how to bring the audience in to their worlds.
Kurner, co-founding mother and Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts Theatre is no slouch to powerful women’s roles. As Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and in “The Clean House” she manages that steely-eyed strong and capable woman persona. In her all white (Valerie Henderson) doctor’s look she is very much in control until called upon to do a task most ‘women spurned’ would ask, “Are you kidding me?” As transformations are a huge part of Ruhl’s play, both Kurner and Maynard, so well adept at it that it feels and looks seamless and natural.
Hannah Logan’s Virginia is as quirky as can be as she waltzes through her days as the polar opposite of her sister in both looks and stature. Sporting big eyeglasses, casually dressed and her hair pulled back into a bun, she has what Lane lacks, compassion, for now. To watch her you get the idea that you are the eccentric one, not the other way around. She is a hoot to follow but more than that she’s the real anchor in hr family, peculiar as she may be.
Nadia Guevara is a breath of fresh air as the Brazilian ‘maid’ in search of the ‘perfect joke’; one that’s so funny, it’s rumored to be deadly to those who hear it. She’s has the role down to a science and just watching her tell jokes (clap first) in her native tongue adds another layer to Ruhl’s unconventional take on life, because oft times the best jokes in the world are the ones only a certain few, get.
I think maybe heaven is a sea of untranslatable jokes. Only everyone is laughing.
As the only male in the ensemble, Tom Deak, fits right in with the women, as his softer more feminine side shows through. He is as charming as he is off beat. With a new lease on life and his new amour, Charles wants to pick apples in the orchards and live a countrified life away from the madding crowds, perform fewer operations and cancel appointments to be with Ana. Then, so be it. And if he has to go to Alaska to chop a down a Pacific Yew Tree that’s supposed to have healing powers, that’s exactly what he will do. And he will manage to get it back to treat his soul mate.
Both Deak and Maynard do double duty as Matilde’s parents. They also looked great dancing the tango at the very top of the production and were amazing singing to each other in the operating room before surgery.
Luke Olson’s soft and dreamy lighting design is the perfect compliment to the overhead balcony just above Lane’s living room with the exact opposite look of a rustic cottage where Ana and Matilde munch and toss apples over the rail that land right in back of Lane’s eye popping white sofa.
And if that’s not enough to entice you to NVA, just imagine what sharing a dish of home made chocolate ice cream among soul mates might look like. I’m just sayin’.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 26th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $24.00