“Everyone comes out of exile in their own way” is this year’s quote for Northwestern’s Jewish Theatre Ensemble, around which this season’s shows have been structured. Director Sophia Sinsheimer set out to explore this quote in a new way in The Clean House, JTE’s spring production that opens this weekend.
“We were interested in the idea of exile as self-inflicted, and coming out of exile as a process of learning how to be vulnerable with others,” says Sinsheimer, a Communications senior majoring in Theatre and Gender & Sexuality studies. “To me, The Clean House is about the power of human connection to help us realize that the things we find difficult in life—the tragedies, the bumps in the road—are all so livable and manageable when other people are there to help.”
The Clean House is a dark comedy that focuses on the power and importance of human connection, especially in the most traumatic situations. The show explores a number of different relationships and how characters lean on each other when faced with difficulty. It follows five characters that each have their own personal conflicts and sources of struggle.
Valen Santos, a freshman theatre major, plays a housemaid from Brazil named Matilde, and feels especially connected to her character’s approach to her problems.
“Her view on life is really interesting. She’s the kind of person who knows the value in seeing the bigger picture and trying to see your problems as really small in a world that’s so big,” Santos says. “I feel like that’s a lot of how I deal with things—seeing my problems as kind of minute in the bigger picture.”
When coming to the show, audiences should be ready to experience a wide arrange of emotions, according to cast member Christian Hill, an RTVF freshman.
“It’s gonna be an emotional roller coaster,” Hill says. “You’re gonna laugh and you’re gonna cry 10 times in the span of 10 minutes, and then you’ve still got another hour and a half to go.”
The show’s cast of five characters are each forced to closely interact with one another. The intimate setting has allowed the actors to form strong personal bonds, which, according to Sinsheimer, has been critical to the success of the show.
“The nice thing about having five people is it really allows me to develop a personal relationship with each of them, and for us to have a sustained dialogue about the things that are challenging in creating that character,” Sinsheimer says. “We all get to have a really in-depth conversation, which for a play like this is so vital and important.”
The show allows otherwise disparate people to be thrust together under unusual and terrible circumstances. Through this, they form unlikely bonds. The characters learn that human connection is ultimately the most powerful response to sadness and trauma.
“It’s all about them coming out of this struggle, this exile that they feel because of their problems, through human connection and through humor. They learn that truly it’s all about finding your soulmate,” says Communications sophomore Carly Mazer, the show’s producer. “Your soulmate truly isn’t one person: it’s having deep, true, meaningful connections with humans.”
The show’s creative team say they believe audiences will connect strongly with The Clean House on a personal level and walk away with new understanding of human relationships.
“I hope audiences will take away the fact that even if you feel like you’re in exile and there’s no coming out of it, that’s not true. It might take a while, it might feel like you’re alone, but you’re not. You have to use those connections, use humor, and use your culture and things that make you happy to catapult yourself out,” Mazer says. “There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, even though it may not be what you originally expected.”
The Clean House runs from May 24 to May 26 at Shanley Pavilion. Admission is $5.