The Clean House | Greenhouse Theater Center | Theater & Performance | Chicago Reader

The Clean House Closing (Theater and Galleries) Member Picks Recommended The Short List (Theater) Image

When: Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 11 2015

What a difference a stage makes. I first saw Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House in 2006, on the big proscenium at Goodman Theatre. It was indeed very clean, as I remember it, in the sense of exuding cool. Cool colors. Cool lines. Cool distances. A cool sort of deadpan whimsy. Not that it didn’t have vivid accents—a woman wearing a red dress, a man in a parka hauling the trunk of a huge tree from one place to another. But when I try to visualize that show now, I think mostly of isolated figures distributed across a spare modernist expanse, as in a model of some design by Mies van der Rohe. Grant Sabin’s set for the Remy Bumppo Theatre version of The Clean House is clean too: sleek and white, with strong horizontals and a really uncomfortable-looking couch that lacks a back, so that anyone using it is practically forced to maintain good posture. The set occupies a floor-level, three-quarter thrust stage, however, which means that we, the audience, sit almost on top of it. And that’s the difference. Watched at close quarters, Ruhl’s romantic tragicomedy takes on warmer tones. We’re acutely aware, for instance, of the physical mess that accumulates as Lane—an MD who shares the house with husband Charles, also an MD—starts losing the thread of her well-ordered existence. We feel the closeness of bodies as Miesian rigor gives way to heartbreak, humiliation, love, jokes, dancing, and uncommon wisdom. The man in the parka ceases to be a visual joke and becomes a very familiar sort of fool. Perhaps most important, our attention is drawn to flashbacks experienced by Lane’s Brazilian housekeeper, Matilde, as she remembers her parents’ epic passion. I’m sure the same scenes were part of the Goodman production. They had to have been. But I can’t bring them to mind. Here, they’re crucial—not to say exceedingly charming. A considerable part of that charm emanates from Charin Alvarez, who plays both Matilde’s mother and Charles’s paramour. In a program essay, Remy Bumppo artistic director Nick Sandys discusses magic realism in The Clean House; he might just as well have printed a photo of Alvarez. In Ann Filmer’s staging, she is magic realism, embodying the mysterious astonishments of life. —Tony Adler

Price: $42.50-$52.50

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