BWW REVIEW: THE CLEAN HOUSE Proves The Power Of Love And Laughter And The Importance Of Looking Beyond The Surface
Thursday 15th June 2017, New Theatre, Newtown
Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer Prize finalist play THE CLEAN HOUSE makes its Sydney premiere at New Theatre with Rosane McNamara's beautiful production. Comic, heart wrenching, heart warming and more than a bit bizarre, this work shines a spotlight on what is important in life.
David Marshall-Martin has created a crisp contemporary home devoid of any significant colour for the restrained and equally precise and clean Lane (Mary-Anne Halpin) to inhabit. A small balcony overlooks Lane's white and taupe living room, providing a space for memories to unfold and later the home of Lane's husband's new lover's seaside home. Lane, a successful doctor, has employed the young Brazilian immigrant Matilde (Keila Terencio) as a housekeeper but the young woman would rather spend time creating jokes than cleaning. Lane's staid older sister Virginia (Alice Livingstone), a housewife that has always felt she lived in her younger sister's shadow, enjoys cleaning, seeing it as giving her a purpose in life, so strikes a deal with Matilde, making friends with the young woman in the process. In a blend of sitcom with silent movie style surtitles, the flaws in Lane's meticulous life come to light when, confirming Matilde and Virginia's suspicions, Lane advises that her husband Charles (James Bean) a fellow doctor, has run off with his patient, the older Argentinian Ana (Colleen Cook). The story gets even more twisted and bizarre when CharLes Wants to introduce Lane to Ana, who also proceeds to offer the recently fired Matilde a job with an outcome that sees the two women share the ineffective cleaning lady.
Set in America, somewhere close enough to the sea and near enough to a major city hospital, Halpin, Livingstone and Bean retain consistent, convincing accents whilst Terencio and Cook ensure Matilde and Ana's Brazilian and Argentinian origins are clear without becoming caricatures. There is a wonderful physicality to the work with Matilde's joke telling, left untranslated in Brazilian, and Virginia's rebellion being highlights as they convey emotions without the need for understandable language.
Stand out performances come from Alice Livingstone as the seemingly meek sister that has always felt mediocre compared to her smarter, successful younger sister. Whilst Halpin ensures that Lane is seen as uptight and judgemental, Livingstone's nuanced performance makes sure that the audience sympathises with Virginia, seeing past the crazy compulsion to clean to see a compassionate caring woman desperate to be noticed and appreciated. Presented with a matter-of-fact justification of her choices, Livingstone gives Virginia a silent sadness to the acceptance that she shouldn't aspire to more.
Halpin captures Lane's growth and softening from an entitled, snotty WASP that can't even bother to get her live in cleaning lady's name right, to someone forced to analyse her idea of love and compassion but still retains an air of reticence to being truly prepared to open her heart. Bean gives Charles a somewhat comic caricature of the lovesick doctor ready to go to the ends of the earth to cure Ana and Cook presents Ana with a degree of reservation and rigidity despite the character's description as "impossibly charismatic". Similarly, McNamara has also allowed Terencio to present Matilde with an innocent child like vibrancy, rather than the subtler deadpan proposed in the character description, making the young girl more likeable and radiant than Ana.
THE CLEAN HOUSE is a wonderfully funny play, presented to a very high standard that outdoes many independent professional productions. A joy to watch in all its absurdity as the audience discovers that there is so much more to life than a clean house.
New Theatre, Newtown
6 June - 8 July 2017