Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Everything In Its Right Place

July 11, 2010

l-r: Colette Kilroy, Denise Blasor, Don Fischer, Elizabeth Liang, and D.J. Harner
Photo: Odyssey Theater 2010

Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House finally made it to L.A. last month after well-regarded runs in many places since 2004, including South Coast Repertory and New York's Lincoln Center. It has surfaced at the Odyssey Theater on the westside of town, which is no surprise considering the company's history of bringing important contemporary plays to local audiences, which have recently included Caryl Churchill’s A Number and Adam Bock’s The Receptionist. And while The Clean House doesn’t benefit from the same level of star-casting as those two previous productions, Odyssey and director Stefan Kruck have put together a funny and solid staging that highlights the best about Ruhl’s play. Probably one of the things I love most about The Clean House is that, like many of Ruhl’s plays, it focuses on the lives of women. It’s sad to say, but even today, one doesn’t get a whole lot of experiences to see works with predominately female casts. House centers around Matilde, a Brazilian maid who doesn’t like cleaning and the married physicians she is employed by but doesn’t exactly work for. This arrangement begins to unnerve her boss Lane who would be forced to turn Matilde out if it weren’t for Lane’s sister, Virginia, who volunteers to do Matilde’s work for her in an effort to calm her own unquiet mind and its obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Matilde turns out to be a comic at heart and spends her time trying to think up the perfect joke in part as a tribute to her comically-inclined deceased parents.

The play is about a great deal more, however, and takes off from there to explore what exactly makes these characters happy and how everyone struggles to identify what that is. Ruhl isn’t so much interested in issues related to social class or cultural differences. The second half of the play veers off in an entirely different direction concerning Lane’s husband, Charles, and his hyper-romantic affair with a terminally ill patient who eventually comes to live in Lane’s home. The focus, however, continues to be on the relationships between these women and how they figure out what actually makes them happy. Ruhl has a superb capacity of filling her plays with scenarios and details that never exactly go where you think they will. The Odyssey's staging may not be perfect, but it does deliver many of the surprises Ruhl intended. The show closes next weekend after a recent extension on the 18th.


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