Sometime in the first five seconds of Mixed Blood’s The Clean House, it hits you: Oh, the house Matilde the maid has been hired to clean is metaphorical. No one’s house is that white, unless it’s in their head, in which case it suggests that we are in the presence of a monumental control freak—someone who eats routine for breakfast, demands order for lunch, and washes dinner down with a cupful of bleach.
The house is Lane’s, and the “lane” in life she has chosen is to become a doctor. And marry a doctor. And try to grab the brass ring of happiness by working eighty-four hours a week while her husband works the other eighty-four.
It’s not working out: Her life is as sterile as her house.
Enter Matilde, a Brazilian maid who hates cleaning and who would rather spend her time thinking up jokes. Fittingly, Matilde is dressed in black, because remember, we’re dealing in metaphors here. So when, amid all this symbolic purity, a pair of red lacy underwear is found, you know it portends something either very good or very bad.
The strength of The Clean House, written by Sarah Ruhl and short-listed for a Pulitzer in 2005, is that despite this stark and rather obvious black-and-white setup, the end result is not so clear-cut. As Lane’s life comes unraveled, some interesting ideas about different philosophies of life and methods of coping come burbling to the surface, and when they do, they tend to be very funny.
Under the direction of Stan Wojewodski Jr., the production takes a while to hit its stride, but when it does, the result is a charming, thoughtful, and often hilarious play that has a light touch with such heavy subjects as love, death, fidelity, friendship, and—of course—the eternal question that faces all of womankind: to clean or not to clean.
The cast is excellent and delivers a strong ensemble performance, particularly Lisa Rafaela Clair as the strong-willed maid Matilde, Hollis Resnik as Lane, and ex–Guthrie regular Stephen Yoakam as Lane’s husband, Charles. Joe Stanley’s all-white set is both arresting and attractive, and the setup inside Mixed Blood’s Alan Page auditorium puts the audience practically onstage with the actors.
Which is good, because after the last five seconds of the play have ended, you’ll want the cast to hear your applause.
The Clean House continues through November 18 at Mixed Blood Theatre.