Ok, I know, time for an intervention. I am obviously WAY too obsessed with Sarah Ruhl. But this is the last post that has ANYTHING to do with her, I swear. For a while, anyway. For at least a week. Well, we’ll see how it goes.
This past Friday I had the privilege of seeing University of Scranton’s production of The Clean House by (in case you didn’t catch the name) Sarah Ruhl. What a wonderful evening of theatre! At one moment I turned to a friend sitting next to me and said, “This isn’t just a good college production; this is a good production!” As a fan of all things Sarah Ruhl, let me tell you, this is a compliment.
About the play itself: you all know by now (those of you who keep up with me on a semi-regular basis…or those of you who happened to skim my blogroll and saw Ruhl’s name a hundred times), I happen to think Sarah Ruhl is a genius of a playwright. Although Eurydice still has my heart, The Clean House just may be Ruhl’s most brilliant work so far. She effortlessly explores the complexities of relationships between spouses, friends, employer/employee, basherts, sisters, brother-in-law and sister-in-law (who may actually be somewhat in love with her brother-in-law…), all in a “metaphysical Connecticut” (which should give you some idea of what you’re in for!). In this masterpiece you’ll find true love and betrayal, dirty jokes told in Portuguese, a tree-hunting expedition to Alaska, a maid who doesn’t like to clean, hatred, forgiveness, death and life again. One of my favorite moments in the play is when Lane, the woman who wants her house cleaned, is imagining her husband with his soul mate (hint: it’s not Lane) and the maid walks in, sees the people Lane is imagining and asks “Who are they?” It’s such a great, theatrical moment, the acknowledgement that we are not looking through a window into the “real” world, but instead, viewing the realities of our world with new eyes. I also love it when Lane’s husband’s soul mate (or bashert) tosses apples off her balcony, into the ocean…and into Lane’s living room.
But let’s look at the U’s production itself for a moment. To begin, the set was stunning. It was beautifully designed to fulfill not only the requirements of the script (including an area on stage upon which to project specific lines from Ruhl’s stage directions), but it fit the feel of the piece completely. The set also enabled the audience to appreciate the contrast between its appearance at the beginning of the play — crisp, clean and startlingly white — and the end…when it’s…well…NOT.
The costuming was also noteworthy; Matilde, the maid, is in simple and convenient black, not only as a modern cleaner of houses, but as a young woman in mourning who recently lost both her parents. Lane is dressed in such crisp, clean whiteness she practically blends into the walls; her sister, Virginia, on the other hand, pops out in effervescent PINKS. Charles, Lane’s cheerfully cheating husband, and his new lover Ana are also dressed in vivid colors that speak to their newfound joy in life and each other. One of my favorite things about the costuming is the subtle shift in the second half of the play when everyone’s color palette begins to move from the extreme color/lack thereof, to a more moderate and similar place on the scale…except Matilde, who may be the protagonist, but who also seems to facilitate a journey for the other characters rather than taking one of her own.
The actors were all respectable, but the actress playing Matilde was particularly good. As a maid/comedian in mourning, Matilde is comic relief with a tinge of sadness. She guides the characters through stages of intermingled joy and grief and the actress playing her in this production disappeared completely and perfectly into the role. The ensemble as a whole was very good, particularly good for a college production when you often think to yourself “so good…except for so-and-so…” I never felt that way during this show. Some actors were stronger than others, but each one had shining moments (a favorite in particular: when Virginia, who LOVES cleaning houses, spends a full minute on stage destroying Lane’s living room with a vengeance). I was very pleased with everyone’s performance.
Technically the show was very well done, save for a few projection glitches in the second half of the show that had me wringing my hands and screaming “noooo!!!” in my head. As one who had read the play before seeing it, I knew when a projection was off — and I mean WAY off — such as when the projection read “Lane forgives Ana” a full two pages in dialogue before that moment actually occurs. But moments like these were a minor frustration amidst what was, ultimately, a very solid production.
And thus ends (for now) my long, continuous obsession with Sarah Ruhl. I promise to take a break and get back to other playwrights (like Winter Miller and Sarah Gubbins — both of whom “owe” me an interview) and plays by other playwrights (like God of Carnage, which I recently read and Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, which I still need to read). BUT…if you haven’t quite had enough of Sarah Ruhl, I have one more little treat for you. My friend and fellow playwright/actor Matthew Hinton was able to hear Ruhl speak when she came to University of Scranton a few weeks ago (reminder: I MISSED IT BECAUSE I WAS IN MINNESOTA — epic fail). If you wish to read the account of his experience, you can find it on his blog. And as always, thank you for enabling my obsession.