Photos – Bob Seary
In the wash up from a messy separation, who gets custody of the cleaner? That’s one of the strands of The Clean House, a magic realist situation comedy by Sarah Ruhl.
Matilde is a Brazilian working as a cleaner in America for high powered medico pair, Lane and Charles. Like nature, Matilde abhors a vacuum, so a vocation in house cleaning is completely vacuous to her.
Her true calling is creating the perfect joke, a legacy from her parents who literally loved to laugh. Indeed, Matilde’s mum died laughing. Instead of tidying the house, Matilda would rather tidy up her timing or polish a punchline.
Exacerbating Matilde’s distaste for dusting, the lady of the house, Lane, appears to have no sense of humour, a doctor whose anatomical lexicon holds no definition of funny bone. Understandably, she finds nothing humourous in her husband, Charles, deciding to fall in love with his patient, Ana.
Neither does she see the comedy in her compulsive cleaner sister, Virginia’s collusion with Matilde to surreptitiously spic and span her home.
A spruce cast under the tidy direction of Rosane McNamara makes a clean sweep of this production of the Pulitzer Prize nominated The Clean House.
Keila Terencio’s quality clowning complete with pratfalls, juggling and tumbling gives Matilde a sunny energy.
By contrast, Mary-Anne Halpin is brilliantly brittle as the high achieving Lane for who love and affection is born of admiration rather than romance and passion. Elegant and immaculately groomed, garbed in spotless white which seems to signify both a sense of sterility and emotional innocence, ∫ orderly spiral into chaos is a neat comic turn complete with a cool spit-take.
Contrasting and complimentary is Alice Livingstone’s Virginia, dully draped in daggy gear, frumpish hausfrau rather than high fashionista, charwoman rather than chairwoman, more at home at the ironing board than the boardroom. Spouse to a barren husband, she’s a sad sack acerbic whose raison d’etre is dust whilst maintaining a barely concealed torch for Charles.
Coleen Cook shines as Ana, the exotic Argentinian with a lust for life even in the midst of death. Battling breast cancer, she is determined to die with dignity and laughter, enlisting Matilde to euthanize her with a killing joke. Standing up.
And as the sole male and Ana’s soul mate, Charles, James Bean brushes up a treat, his old dog puppy love elevated from foolish to affecting.
David Marshall-Martin’s clean lined set is a beauty of function and form and his lighting augments the aesthetic of the architecture and the text.
Kudos also to costume designer Nicola Block for a contextually vibrant wardrobe.
The Clean House is not a side splitting farce but a warm and wise comedy that amuses with an authentic absurdity. It deserves to clean up at the box office.
New Theatre presents
THE CLEAN HOUSE
by Sarah Ruhl
Director Rosane McNamara
Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street, Newtown, NSW
Dates: 6 June - 8 July 2017
Tickets: $35 – $20