The Clean  House | Black Swan State Theatre CompanyLeft: (l-r) Vivienne Garret, Brooke Satchwell and Sarah McNeill

The Clean House
, written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Kate Cherry, is a moving and enjoyable piece of theatre that is both funny and poignant. 

The characters are lovable realistic and it is not hard to either recognise an element of yourself, or indeed someone you know, within one of them.

Lane is a successful surgeon who’s busy and demanding life revolves around the need for order, which manifests itself in the desire for a clean and tidy home.

Lane’s husband Charles is also a successful surgeon and the demands of their careers put pressure on their relationship and force them to spend much time apart.

Enter Brazilian maid Matilde who is hired to clean their home but finds cleaning a disagreeable pastime that makes her sad and inhibits her creativity, preventing her from spending time creating the perfect joke. Matilde is still mourning the loss of her parents after her mother literally died laughing at one of her father’s jokes.

Creating yet another juxtaposition of character is Lane’s frustrated sister Virginia, who wishes she had done more with her life. Virginia fills her lonely life with obsessive cleaning to give her life purpose.

As order starts to dissolve and chaos builds, Matilde and Virginia form an unlikely alliance and Virginia secretly takes on Matilde’s duties giving her the time to concentrate on her jokes and regaining her happiness.

Not long after this arrangement begins, Virginia happens across sexy lingerie that appears in her sister’s laundry but does not resemble the sensible, practical underwear she favours. Lane’s orderly, clean and well manicured life is thrown into complete disarray as her husband not only admits to an affair but brings home his soul mate to meet the family so that they can “all get to know one another.”

One cannot help but feel sorry for Lane as she is forced to come face-to-face with the woman who has not only stolen her husbands affection but has brought a look of love to his face so strong, that she does not recognise it. Imagine the hurt and pain as both her maid and sister fall for the charms of fun loving, spiritual Ana who embodies everything she does not. Imagine her own confusion as she too falls for the charms of Ana. What develops is an unlikely bond between the four women.

Andrew Bellchambers set is an absolute masterpiece and perfectly reflects the nature of Lane’s character. It is both incredibly modern and stylish yet somewhat cold and sterile. Lane’s living room is completely white, from the carpet, the paintings, to the couch and furnishings. It is framed on one side by full-length glass windows and a door that appears to miraculously open on its own, as if by magic. As Lane’s life collapses around her so does her home and various special effects, which are excellent, shower her home in everything from apples, to autumn leaves and snowstorms.

The Clean House is a joy to watch and Cherry’s direction smacks of attention to detail and a deep understanding to the script.  Characterisation is well developed and scenes transition from one to another seamlessly.

Given that playwright Sarah Ruhl was not yet thirty when she wrote the play, one can only marvel at her depth of understanding of the human psyche. Little wonder she received a MacArthur Fellowship, an unheard honour for one so young. The Clean House was also winner of the 2004 Susan Smith Blackburn Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.


Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The Clean House
by Sarah Ruhl

Director Kate Cherry

Venue: Playhouse Theatre
Dates: 29 May – 19 June 2010
Tickets: Standard $54.50, Concession $45.50
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 | www.bocsticketing.com.au/events/clean_house.shtml