All College Theater’s (ACT) production of Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” swept through the Don Evans Black Box Theater last week, teaching audiences that the cleansing power of a laugh is not to be taken lightly.
Heather Duncan, sophomore English major, gave an inspired performance as Matilde, a fanciful young Brazilian woman who has taken a position as a maid since her arrival in the United States. Matilde is in search of the perfect joke, but is afraid of the potentially fatal consequences after her mother died from laughter.
A natural comedian, Matilde has no desire to clean, which does not agree with her employer Lane, a desensitized doctor played by Alida Liberman, senior philosophy major.
“I did not go to medical school to clean my own house,” Lane declares.
Lane’s compulsive and often lonely sister Virginia, played by Alyssa Phillips, senior history/education major, strikes a deal with Matilde. Virginia promises to clean Lane’s house in exchange for Matilde’s company.
Conflict arises when Lane’s husband Charles, played by Pablo Moretto, junior philosophy and psychology major, falls in love with his patient Ana, played by Anya Saretzky, freshman sociology major.
Ana mirrors Matilde because they are both free spirits who enjoy life and recognize the value of each day, which hits home when it is revealed that Ana is terminally ill. She refuses to go a hospital and it falls on Lane to care for her.
Each member of the cast fit perfectly into this complex puzzle of a play. Their performances fostered a suspension of disbelief from the audience.
“Lane learns it’s possible to forgive,” Liberman said of her character. “She learns that life doesn’t always make sense but that’s OK.”
Virginia also underwent personal growth and watching her recognize her self-worth through Phillips’ performance was heart-warming.
“I’ve been acting since I was 5 years old and this was the most difficult part I’ve ever had,” Phillips said. “The subtext has subtext. It’s about filling in the blanks.”
A notable feature of the production was the set design, which accurately amplified the personalities of the corresponding characters. Lane’s living room was stark white and spotless, whereas the colorful balcony of Ana’s abode by the sea reflected the diversity of her character.
“The Clean House” succeeded on all of the necessary levels. It appealed to the senses with Latin music framing each scene change and dramatic lighting that seemed to act as a character itself.
After witnessing the final product, it is hard to believe that the cast and crew had only about a month to prepare.
“We had to work fast,” director Janet Quartarone said. “Everybody was so committed. They did such a professional job.”
“The Clean House” instills in us the importance of living life accompanied by a sense of humor.
“I want you to kill me with a joke,” Ana says to Matilde.
“The perfect joke happens by accident,” Matilde says. “You want to hear it once in your life and then never again.”