What is the funniest joke you have ever heard? If you have not found the joke yet, then I would suggest watching “The Clean House.” Asylum Theatre’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s masterpiece is a humorous rendition of obsessions, desires, love, life and death. Written by Ruhl, the Pulitzer Prize nominated piece has taken inspiration from real life events and interwoven stage delights into an entertaining two hour story.
Matilde (Catherine Zambri) is a Brazilian housemaid who would rather spend her time thinking up a joke than doing any housekeeping. Her employer, Dr. Lane (Valeri Lantz-Gefroh) is a career woman who wants her house clean. Then there is Virginia, (Laura Ross) the older sister of Lane, who prefers to make cleaning her job. Put those three women together and you’ll wind up getting one mad house.
However, there is a sense of order to the madness. The play has a silk-smooth and effortless texture to how the story progresses. Matilde’s desire for humor in her morbid life plays a domino effect on the rest of the characters; the element of humor keeps audience members riveted in their seats. The dialogues of each character are both timely and well-executed by the seasoned actors. Humor is a tough genre of theater to recreate, and director Valeri Lantz-Gefroh has adapted Ruhl’s work into every aspect of the play. From Virginia’s manner of spreading her dress on the sofa as she takes a seat, to the tiny details in hand gestures Lane uses to express her desire to invite her family for dinner. Gefroh has adapted the play to Asylum Theatre’s best.
From characterization, costume design and multimedia, the play is a multi-level communication vehicle. The hundred and twenty minute story unfolds in a perceived clean environment of the living room in Lane’s house. With a white theme running through the set, the story reveals pieces of dirt in the form of Lane’s cheating husband, Charles (Steven Lantz-Gefroh), Virginia’s obsessive cleaning to avoid facing her demons and Matilde’s expression of sadness at the loss of her parents. The ‘clean’ transforms into the unclean environs of Charles’ love affair with a cancer patient named Ana (Deborah Mayo). In the certainty of oncoming death there is humor, and the juxtaposition of these two extremities is compelling to the very end.
Music plays an important part of the play, often-times lending an operatic expression. For instance, Virginia’s frustration when Lane ‘fires’ her from cleaning her house or Charles performing the mastectomy on Ana.
The selection of music and video and the interconnectedness of all three media influences the senses in a way theatre is best known for doing.
“The Clean House” is co-produced by Stony Brook University’s Staller Center, and it has accomplished actors who have had impressive theatre productions under their belt. Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, Steven Lantz-Gefroh, Deborah Mayo, Laura Ross and Catherine Zambri have taken on the roles and given each character a deeper meaning, interpretation and confidence that best tells their story.
The play continues its run from Sept. 27 to the 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in Theater Two of the Staller Center. Students who bring their ID cards with them are entitled to a discount. My verdict: Go see “The Clean House” to find that perfect joke.