Village Playhouse cleans up nicely with Sarah Ruhl comedy

October 4, 2019

When the thought of cleaning makes your housekeeper so sad that she simply cannot clean, then surely something has to change. Of course, it usually doesn't end up in uncovering affairs, trekking the planet for yew trees, and killer jokes. In her usual fashion, Sarah Ruhl bends realist comedy towards absurdism in her brilliant script, The Clean House. The Village Playhouse steps up their game with this piece, presenting what may be their strongest work yet.

 

 Emily Condon in The Clean House.

 

Jackie Benka plays accomplished doctor and lady of the house Lane with tangible poise. Lane "[goes] to work exhausted and [comes] home exhausted", rarely seeing her husband (nor often questioning his whereabouts). Matilde (Emily Condon), despite her job description, has no intention on cleaning Lane's house. Instead, she spends day in and day out trying to come up with the perfect joke - and fearing that, should she succeed, the laughter just might kill her.

 

Lane and Matilde have a stiff dynamic, but the gap is bridged by Lane's sister Virginia who, more than anything, loves to clean. Upon finishing her own home, she visits Matilde and cleans while her sister is away at work. While the rouse doesn't last long, this brings the three characters together for the shenanigans to follow.

 

Ellman, Billeck, and Benka in The Clean House. 

 

Sam Billeck as Ana (or the 'other woman') and Joseph Ellman as Lane's husband bring delightful chemistry to the stage. Their moments of romance throughout the script not only warm the hearts of viewers, but also - against all odds - the heart of Lane.

 

Kathy Landry's Virginia is the overbearing sibling many of us know and love - her care extends just a touch too far and an inch too deep, causing scuffles with all those she loves. Her constant humor deftly hides a pain that determines how she conducts all of her activity. The result is surprisingly heartwarming.

 

Some moments of heightened emotions emerge suddenly under Scott Sorensen's direction. This may perhaps be a nod to the telenovela-esque drama unfolding in Ruhl's script. However, the roller coaster of ever-changing moods is a touch jarring.

 

 Billeck, Benka, Condon, and Landry in The Clean House.

 

Sorensen's scenic design may be the best use of space Inspiration Studios and the Playhouse have seen. The intimacy of the theatre lends itself to deep, meaningful connection between pieces and audience, but the practicality of the space is a challenge. Sorensen has the living room - which later expands into two - laid out so that it feels full yet expansive, decorated and yet not overwhelming. This balance is a clear reflection of both Lane and Ana - the necessity of practicality and the joy of frivolity.

 

Sarah Ruhl is quickly becoming a household name for theatregoers, and the Village Playhouse's production of The Clean House displays why. The blend of tenderheartedness and absurd comedy makes this piece one-of-a-kind. Director Scott Sorensen is exactly right when he writes that this story is a winner.

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