The Clean House
Deep Dish Theater
Through May 24
Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House opens with a maid telling a lengthy joke in Portuguese that isn't translated for the audience. Thus begins a deftly written, impish play that delights in its own playfulness. Deep Dish's production, while boasting successes of its own, doesn't, unfortunately, fully exploit the script's promise.
In this play, master-servant relationships, feminist bonding and issues of class take center stage. We learn that Matilde, the maid, couldn't care less about cleanliness; comedy is her true aspiration. Lane, her physician employer, diagnoses depression in Matilde and sends her to a shrink. Then, Lane is abandoned by her husband, Charles, in favor of a woman named Ana. In the meantime, Virginia, an obsessive clean freak, covets Matilde's job, which she is happy to relinquish.
As the doctor and the maid, respectively, Carole Marcotte and Ashlee Quinones are the production's strongest assets. Quinones is always direct and on point, and Marcotte wins over the audience with her dry delivery. Georgia Martin, as the whimsical, closet-depressive Virginia, also bolsters the show with her airy line readings.
Still, this Tony Lea-directed production has shortcomings: The actors often lack believability and seriousness—at times they seem to browbeat the audience with the play's supposed funniness—as when Donnie Bledsoe's Charles, faced with the mortality of a loved one, abandons the intensity of the moment, failing to communicate the scene's trauma. The fact that the play is a comedy is no reason to abandon authentic representations of human nature. Fortunately, Bledsoe is better in a tender scene with Delia Rose Pantaleon's Ana.
Lea's direction deserves praise on several points, namely his success at conveying information nonverbally. For instance, when Lane needs help the most, the two women who have offered it to her (and will eventually comprise her support system) are distinguished from the other characters when they drink from their beverages in unison with Lane during an awkward conversation. Scott Marlow's lighting design achieves the same effect on occasion—flashing to Lane's activities at the pivotal moment when Matilde discovers the perfect joke.
Even if there are facets of the production that could use a little 409, Ruhl's wonderful script—and Deep Dish's mostly sturdy production of it—are worth seeing.