Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Did You Hear the One About....?

"The Clean House" at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center, January 23, 2007

Lane (Blair Brown) is a doctor. She likes things neat, tidy and organized. Matilde (Vanessa Aspillaga) is her Brazilian maid, depressed over her mother's death a year before. Virginia (Jill Clayburgh) is Lane's home-maker sister with too little to do. Charles (John Dossett) is Lane's surgeon husband who's just left her for an older woman, Ana (Concetta Tomei) on whom he recently performed a mastectomy. (Spoiler Alert)

Opening with Matilde (dressed in all black) standing on a white set, telling a joke in Portuguese, the show tries to get to shades of grey but never quite did for me. Ms. Aspillaga looks like a human version of comfort food - buxom and zaftig (is that redundant?). She longs for the kind of love her parents had - based on affection and most of all, humor. But she's torn by it - - her mother died laughing from a new joke her father told her. Her father immediately commited suicide from he guilt. As a result, she has no interest in cleaning. Still, Matilde seeks to make up the funniest joke, ever.

Along comes Ms. Clayburgh, also depressed but who finds purpose in cleaning up after others. Her own husband doesn't need her anymore and with no children, there's little to be cleaned at home that hasn't been scrubbed beyond recognition already. So she adopts Matilde and gladly begins doing her job for her. Ms. Clayburgh's Virginia is a little manic, and eager to mother someone - anyone. I wonder if her character's name is symbolically tied to her lack of children?

As Lane, Ms. Brown is in her typical fine form, brusque and busy in an effort to avoid the messiness of life. Her efforts are unsuccessful, both literally and figuratively. By the end of the show, she's pushed/plowed into her estranged husband's life, taking care of his new love when her cancer comes back. (He's gone off to find a rare artic tree, whose bark is supposed to contain a curative chemical compound - and yes, he drags the whole tree into Lane's no-longer clean, white house.)

Mr. Dossett and Ms. Tomei play both the husband and lover, respectively, as well as Matilde's parents in flashbacks. Mr. Dossett, always in solid form, seems a little lost at times. Not sure if that's because of Sarah Ruhl's writing or Bill Rauch's direction here. His role does seem a bit of an apology lost among the high estrogen levels of cast and script. Ms. Tomei comes off stronger, with a nice display of accent for her South American roles.

There is the trashing of the "clean house" as Lane's pristine world falls apart. I thought the symbolism of the whole apple-picking sequence was particularly heavy-handed from Eve's original sin (Charles and Ana's affair) the "apple a day keeps the doctor away" (Ana's illness), followed by the littering of the stage with said apples.

Christopher Acebo's set and James F. Ingalls' lighting work nicely for most of the action - the artic trek is a bit of a stretch, but with the apron stage of the Newhouse, there are going to be limitations. There are also projections of supertitles for the Portuguese dialogue, but these aren't effective for some of the audience - again because of the auditorium's design.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of laughs and a few nice moments of catharsis.

(Starwatch: Jane Alexander in the audience - she seemed to have a lovely time.)

No comments: