Monday, October 06, 2008

House Raising

As I write this, somewhere up the street from me people are getting ready to go on stage and perform “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” I wish I could be there because, based on “The Clean House” and what I’ve heard about “Eurydice,” I’m sure it’s going to be a fascinating staged reading.

I’ve already been given some guff about my review about “The Clean House” and how I threw the adjectives “cliché” and “cloying” in there without anything to back them up. I’ll address them first just to get it out of the way. The main element of the show that I think is cliché is that the two white women are uptight and high-strung, while the two Latin women are more unrestrained and emotional. It’s not a big deal and would hardly be worth mentioning if the white women weren’t uptight nearly to the point of distraction.

And the one main aspect of the show that I’d call cloying – with a dose of silly mixed in – would be that the fervency of Charles’s ardor for Ana drives him to head to Alaska. Again, not a big deal and it makes for a nice women-only final scene with Ana, but still moderately distracting for me. I’d also say that the non-translated Spanish / Portuguese has the unfortunate effect of alienating / distancing some theatergoers, based on what I heard some people say around me at the matinee I attended. It didn’t bother me too much because I saw it as an opportunity to concentrate on the telling of the joke, for instance, rather than the substance of it.

OK, so that’s about all of the negatives that I can scrape up – and really, I’m stretching here – for what is otherwise a truly enchanting production. Bianca Bryan is fabulous as Matilde, particularly in the later scenes as the emotional waters get muddied with her working for Ana. Given the restrictions of her role (see note on uptightness), Kelly Kennedy does a fine job as Lane and John Moon is eager and energetic in his exuberant interpretation of Charles.

But the two performances I found myself most surprised and delighted by were Jan Guarino as Virginia and Robin Arthur as Ana. I haven’t seen either actress play a role like the ones they do in this show and the challenge brings out the best of them both. The character of Virginia is a bit extreme (are there really people who clean just for fun?) but Jan makes her human and, perhaps more important, sympathetic. Robin is just wonderfully grounded as Ana, not earthy-crunchy in her spirituality, just centered and calm. Robin makes her someone you could really imagine someone falling in love with at first sight.

My favorite scenes in the show had touches of magical realism, the best for me being the apples from the balcony, particularly the looks from Lane / Kelley as she watches them bounce through her living room – what fun. And the flashbacks / fantasy sequences with John and Robin were all beautifully staged.

I expect there are people who won’t be quite as enamored with “Clean House” as I was. There is plenty of humor in the show but it is rarely uproariously funny. There aren’t exactly extremes of emotional highs and lows though there are certainly fireworks. And overall, the story is bittersweet. Oh, but it is a sweet bittersweetness – I left the theater feeling fully satisfied.

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