SUNDAY REVIEW: The Clean House
BY JOSEPH PLANTA
Sunday, 05 November 2006
VANCOUVER - As theatregoers hurry to their seats at the Playhouse before curtain, they are met with a neatly furnished, crisp, spacious suite. The furniture is fashionable, the hardwood floor a character, and the room otherwise well appointed. This is John Thompson's set for The Clean House, the Playhouse Theatre Company's opening production of their 44th season.
The playwright Sarah Ruhl has written a charming play that is not a challenge to get into yet is witty and smart. It is spare yet sophisticated; sentimental but sharp.
What happens in The Clean House? Well, there is the evocative and perhaps crude joke told by Matilde, played by Sarah Henriques. One says perhaps, because unless you're fluent in Portuguese, you don't really know what is being said. Matilde's mother dies laughing, literally. It seems her mother and father were pretty funny people, and her mother dies listening to one heck of a zinger from father. Matilde leaves Brazil and ends up at the home of a well-to-do doctor, Lane, whose suite, which Matilde is hired to clean, is the setting for the hilarity and action. Lane is fronted by a dashing actress, Susan Hogan, who plays having-it-all well. Cliché dictates however, that such character is a bit frayed beneath the surface and Hogan silently and longingly does that well when she needs to.
Matilde it turns out doesn't like to clean. She'd rather write jokes, and we find this out with the appearance of Patricia Hunter, who plays Virginia, Lane's sister. She takes to Matilde, and the two become fast friends. Hunter is particularly delightful, and contributes much hilarity, as well as meaning throughout the show.
Nicola Lipman also stands out in this production, playing Ana to Andrew Wheeler's Charles. Charles, you see, like Lane is a surgeon. They're married professionals brought together conceivably because of their work. It turns out he's fallen in love with Ana. Lane's life is upside down, but they're all brought together thanks to illness, back to that house that Matilde doesn't want to clean.
Lipman and Wheeler provide laughs, but Lipman is particularly touching. In the play's penultimate scene, involving Matilde's lethally hilarious joke, we see Lipman's small and frail frame command the stage. (That said, however, the addition of a soaring soundtrack to this scene seemed a bit much, but surprisingly doesn't diminish the emotion so projected by the actors.)
The direction by Steven Schipper seems spare, and appropriately so, as the talented actors make the story and the play theirs. Sarah Ruhl's words seem to fit the performers well, who infuse their own sensibilities and physicality appropriately so. Running until Saturday, The Clean House is an evening out that's worth it.
***Check out www.vancouverplayhouse.com for tickets and information on The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, starring Sarah Henriques, Susan Hogan, Patricia Hunter, Nicola Lipman, and Andrew Wheeler, running until Saturday, 11 November 2006.
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