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THE CLEAN HOUSE by Sarah Ruhl is the final addition to Pendragon Theatre’s summer repertory season. I’m not sure what I’d call this fascinating play – perhaps a quasi-absurdist romantic tragi-comedy. In other words, there’s a lot going on. It deals with tidiness of both surroundings and emotions, death, love, cancer, the nature of humor and gives new meaning to the cliché “die laughing”. Although the play juxtaposes American order against Latin ambiguity, the five very different characters eventually form a surprisingly functional family.
The cast is without doubt the strongest and most balanced I’ve seen at Pendragon. We first meet Matilde, the Brazilian maid who hates to clean, well-played by Donna Moschek. She captures the character’s inner pain, while trying to find the perfect joke in order to deal with her personal grief. Molly Walsh plays the distinctly clinical doctor Lane with a wonderful air of pained confusion. Miss Walsh has impeccable comic timing and the character’s eventual thaw is thoroughly believable.
As Virginia, Lane’s sister who loves and lives to clean, Binnie Ritchie Holum is a simmering bundle of nerves. Her ultimate eruption is one of the comic high points of the play. Keith Walsh is very good as Charles, Lane’s surgeon husband who is caught up in a “love at first sight” affair with a breast cancer patient.
As the Argentinean Ana, the aforementioned patient, Fran Yardley simply glows. This most alive of the characters accepts the flaws and realities of life and death, dealing with it all with subtle humor. Miss Yardley gives us not only charm, but depth.
Bob Pettee’s set of floating translucent white panels combined with white furniture and a small raised platform that acts as a balcony creates a Zen-like space that works very well for the transitions from reality to fantasy. The panels also provide a canvas for Colin McKeen’s effective lighting. Kent Streed’s costumes are excellent and round out the characters. I must also congratulate dialect coaches Jamie Whidden and Dakotah Horan, who’ve done a fine job.
Susan Neal has directed THE CLEAN HOUSE with a sure hand. She manages, along with her fine cast, to maintain the delicate balance between sadness and humor, reality and fantasy. I particularly liked her surrealistic staging of the surgery. My only quibble, and it’s a minor one, is that her music choices tend to tip all the scenes into dreamscapes.
THE CLEAN HOUSE is an interesting, funny and touching examination of five disparate but connected lives. If you’ve never been to Pendragon, this would be a good introduction. If you’re a regular patron, don’t miss it.
On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of THE CLEAN HOUSE gets four and seven-eighths pine trees. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.