“I did not go to medical school to clean my own house.” This is a good way to initially describe The Clean House, Arts Alliance’s 2009 Spring Mainstage. The production is a bold work, featuring a huge set in Norris’s Louis Room. Arts Alliance has turned the room into a mini-amphitheater, with half the room taken up with two sections of sets, and the other half with a living room, complete with two white couches, a dining room table and a potted plant.
The play focuses on Matilde (Communication sophomore Marie Semla), a Brazilian maid and aspiring comedienne, who works for Lane (Communication senior Kyly Zakheim), a career-driven female doctor. Matilde hates cleaning, and Lane’s sister Virginia (Communication senior Cara Brown) offers to clean her sister’s house for her. The three woman are brought together and torn apart multiple times in the play with the tumultuous news that Lane’s husband, Charles (Communication junior Jeff Konowitch), is cheating on her with a patient.
At times hilarious and at others downright morose, it is hard to characterize The Clean House. The combination of Matilde’s zest for life and Virginia’s clean obsessed bookishness makes for sitcom-like contrast. These characters turn some of the saddest moments in the play the funniest. The first half of the show is primarily the interaction between Matilde and Virginia. Matilde bonds with Virginia while she cleans her own sister’s house, and Matilde’s character and wit opens the reserved Virginia’s eyes to her bubbly outlook on life. As the play goes on, Matilde brings more and more of the characters over to her side, eventually even liberating Lane, who initially sees Matilde as nothing more than the woman who cleans her house.
The show also features a small pit orchestra of violin, piano, guitar and percussion which plays bossa nova pop music at the opening and closing of most of the scenes, along with a musical number. This music adds to the show’s sitcom-like nature (along with the show taking place almost entirely in a living room). The original music was added specifically to the Arts Alliance production and was composed by the pit’s piano/guitarist, freshman Matt Deitchman.
A recurring theme of Matilde’s is that of “the funniest joke in the world,” something she attempts to create throughout the course of the play. In fact, all Monty Python references aside, none of Matilde’s jokes are heard by the audience, unless, of course, you speak Portuguese. The play can be busy at times — there are flashbacks with the actors that play Charles and his patient Ana (Communication senior Sarah Grace Welbourn) playing Matilde’s younger, deceased parents and a musical number (one of the already funny play’s funnier moments) halfway through, but this just makes the play more amusing, as opposed to confusing and incongruous.
The Clean House is an incredibly entertaining show. The pace is pulled along by its sharp, witty cast, and the original music further livens the tempo. The only issue with the show is whether to call it a comedy or a drama, as the production seems to brilliantly straddle the two genres. Its saddest moments are also its funniest; its funniest are also its saddest.