REVIEW: “The Clean House” at Williamstown

by Roseann Cane

“The story of my parents is this. It was said that my father was the funniest man in his village. He did not marry until he was sixty-three because he did not want to marry a woman who was not funny. He said he would wait until he met his match in wit.

And then one day he met my mother. He used to say: your mother—and he would take a long pause…is funnier than I am. We have never been apart since the day we met, because I always wanted to know the next joke.

My mother and father did not look into each other’s eyes. They laughed like hyenas. Even when they made love they laughed like hyenas. My mother was old for a mother. She refused many proposals. It would kill her, she said, to have to spend her days laughing at jokes that were not funny….

I wear black because I am in mourning. My mother died last year.”

Playwright Sarah Ruhl places The Clean House in “A metaphysical Connecticut. Or, a house that is not far from the city and not far from the sea.” Matilde (Guenia Lemos), the Brazilian housekeeper who works for physician Lane (Jayne Atkinson), finds herself unable to clean Lane’s home. Lane’s sister, Virginia (Jessica Hecht), enraptured with the sense of order she derives from cleaning, conspires with Matilde to take over cleaning Lane’s house when Lane is at work.

And so, for a while, order and cleanliness reign in this house, but Lane’s refusal to inhabit life’s messiness comes at a cost. While she maintains a pristine detachment from her home as well as her feelings, the disorder is filled with revelations. Her laundry contains evidence of a love affair between her surgeon-husband Charles (Bernard White) and his effervescent patient, Ana (Priscilla Lopez), and by the time Lane is confronted with her husband’s new love, she is shaken to her very foundation.

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A well-lived life, passion, and love are nothing if not messy, Ruhl tells us. This remarkable production, directed by Rebecca Taichman, is rich beyond words, and its sensibility is as filled with surprises as it is with humor and compassion. Ruhl has created a transcendent examination of love in all its forms, brought to life by a smart, sensitive director and a superlative cast. I was gratified to hear during a talk-back after the show that Ruhl was involved with the creation of this production, even going so far as to make some small but stunning changes in the script, which had premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2004, and Off-Broadway in 2006. (Playwrights are notoriously rigid about adjusting their works.) The collaborative spirit between playwright, director, cast, and crew is gloriously evident here.

Riccardo Hernandez has created a beautiful split set, with Lane’s crisp white home and Ana’s balcony overlooking the ocean. Anita Yavich’s costumes do a wonderful job of enhancing each character, and the lighting (Ben Stanton) and sound (Andre Pluess) serve the production flawlessly.

 I was still basking in astonishment and delight as I walked out of the theater. The Clean House is perhaps the finest show I’ve seen so far this season. But be warned: The Clean House closes soon, on July 29. While Ruhl demonstrates that the most important revelations in life are worth waiting for, you won’t have an opportunity to see this quirky, exquisite production if you wait much longer.

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Rebecca Taichman, runs July 19-29, 2017 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on the Main Stage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. Set design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by Anita Yavich; lighting design by Ben Stanton; Sound design by Andre Pluess; movement consultant David Neumann; dialect coach Ben Furey. CAST: Jayne Atkinson as Lane; Guenia Lemos as Matilde; Jessica Hecht as Virginia; Priscilla Lopez as Ana; and Bernard White as Charles.

Tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the Box Office located at the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance Box Office at 1000 Main St (Route 2), Williamstown, MA 01267, 413.458.3253.

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