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Student Players presents ‘The Clean House’

| Friday, April 27, 2018

Diane Park | The Observer

This Friday, Saturday and Sunday, student actors from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s will take to the stage and bring contemporary playwright Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” to life.

Director Brynn Alexander, a senior Film, Television and Theatre major with a concentration in Theatre, chose to stage “The Clean House” after reading the script over winter break. She saw it as the perfect way to tie-up her experience here at Notre Dame.

Most people know about “Death of a Salesman” or “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but there are millions of plays in the world and so many great ones that people just don’t know about, said Alexander when asked why she chose “The Clean House.”

The play, nominated for a Pulitzer in 2005, centers on Matilde (Zoë Usowski), a Brazilian cleaning woman who would rather be a comedian.

Matilde opens the show by telling an elaborate, untranslated joke in Portuguese that the audience can only assume is dirty. The happy tone, however, soon shifts. The 27-year-old housekeeper explains she wears black because of her parents’ deaths the year before (her mother literally died laughing and her father committed suicide shortly after) and that cleaning, more than anything, makes her sad.

The focus then shifts to Lane (Stephanie Johnson), a driven American doctor in her 50s, as she explains her frustration with Matilde. Lane says, with little apology in her voice, “I’m sorry, but I did not go to medical school to clean my own house.”

Next up is Virginia (Eileen DiPofi), Lane’s older sister. Markedly different from high-strung, busy Lane, Virginia professes her love of dust and ponders the metaphysics of mold. She loves to clean. The task distracts her from thinking about how her life has gone downhill since age 22.

Matilde, Lane and Virginia, the three principal women of the show, each have their moment in the spotlight as the others sit frozen in the background. This intense characterization, before any of the action begins, sets the audience up to understand and connect with each woman’s perspective, highlighting the theme of shared humanity at the play’s heart.

New relationships develop and grow complicated as Virginia offers to come over and clean the house for Matilde before Lane gets home from the hospital every day.

Doing laundry, Virginia and Matilde discover underwear too sexy to belong to straight-laced Lane. The two women begin to suspect Lane’s husband Charles (Kelly Burgess), a surgeon, of having an affair. Their suspicions are confirmed when Lane tells them that Charles has left her for an older woman named Ana (Annie Romano), one of Charles’s patients recovering from a mastectomy.

Charles soon brings Ana home, in hopes of creating one big happy family. Matilde and Ana connect right away. Ana, a Spanish-speaking Argentine woman, speaks a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese with Matilde. Audience members may not be able to understand the words, but they can still connect with the characters. The relationship that develops between Ana and Matilde emphasizes a shared humanity able to surpass linguistic barriers and messy relationships.

At its core “The Clean House” strives to represent the deep feelings of solidarity and emotional resilience of its women. Virginia and Lane are sisters that fight and bicker despite the love grounding their relationship. Ana and Lane both love the same man yet overcome this barrier as Ana’s cancer worsens and Lane must care for her. The women driving Ruhl’s play make it as rewarding humanistically as it is theatrically.

“The Clean House” may be a show few have heard of before, but that’s all the more reason to go see the Student Players’ production of this contemporary classic.

The show will take place in the Washington Hall Lab Theater at 7 p.m. Friday, and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available for purchase at the LaFortune Box Office.

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