By Charlize Althea Garcia, March 21, 2023
The CPP Department of Theatre and New Dance premiered their spring 2023 season with a comedy “The Clean House” March 10.
“The Clean House,” embellished with oddities in its characters, is coupled with an erratic storyline. The story takes place in the house of Lane. Lane is a doctor in her 50s who wears all white and lives in an all-white house with her surgeon husband, Charles. The show starts with Matilde, pronounced Mah-chil-jee, the Portuguese pronunciation, as she is from Brazil and moved in to live with Lane as her cleaning lady.
Matilde, played by Leilani Young, takes the stage by storm and tells the audience a joke in Portuguese. Young made sure the audience knew it was a dirty joke, leaving the audience to burst into laughter due to her expressive gestures.
The plot revolves around Matilde trying to find the “perfect joke.” As a comedian herself, she is inspired by her traumatic past: the death of her mother and the suicide of her father.
Matilde moves to the United States and meets Lane and Virginia, who has no job, finds no joy in her marriage and has a faulty relationship with her sister. Lane suffers through her own battle as she finds her husband falling in love with another woman, Ana, a breast cancer survivor Charles met during one of his mastectomy procedures which eventually leads to an affair.
Lane is aloof, showing no morsel of polite social behavior even to her sister, but in the end when the cancer returned, she takes care of Ana as an act of kindness to everyone but herself.
Hailey Hill, who played Lane, talked about Lane’s role as the antagonist of the story.
“In the beginning, you can kind of see her (Lane) as the villain, even Charles as the villain,” said Hill. “But I think your view of who the villain is at the end of the story depends on where you’re coming from in your own walk.”
The writer of the play, Sarah Ruhl, makes it clear there is no exact villain given each character is enveloped in their own flaws. Charles as the “bad guy,” even when blatantly written out as the man who cheated on his wife, can still be up for debate.
“Sometimes we love people more than they love us, but it’s not wrong of them that they found the person that they do love and that’s a hard thing to come to a realization to and even to put yourself selflessly,” said Hill.
After a period of gradual suffering, Ana dies in the end, asking Matilde to tell her the perfect joke, the kind of joke that killed her mother in the beginning.
The joke acted as Matilde’s prize, simultaneously becoming the weapon to her parent’s death and Ana’s death. Rain Aurora Reaza who played played both Matilde’s mother and Ana explained Ana’s relationship with the “joke.”
“Who wouldn’t want to die laughing?” said Reaza. “Who wouldn’t want their last moment to be really happy and really joyful. So, I think for her, it means ending her life in her own power in her own terms, and with her own joy.”
“The Clean House” opened their show March 10 and ended their last March 19. The nine-day production opened with a successful show, followed each day by the same compelling story and the same joke.
With the “joke” as the overarching theme, it was both the conflict and the solution, from her parents dying because of it, to Matilde’s life-long quest success and to the death of another beloved friend. It drove the story.
Young explained her role as the joke teller and mentioned a moment of her process while inhabiting her character, watching videos of children who have lost their mothers to breast cancer. They would say it was better they left, so they wouldn’t feel the pain anymore.
“I’m here to help her not feel that pain anymore and the joke is the release from whatever she is holding, and I’m finally there to help her,” said Young. “She finally gets the help that she needs and lets it go.”
Julianna Stephanie Ojeda, the director, was asked of the symbolism.
“The joke, the joke-telling and the comedy is the connection to her parents who are dead. This to me, is a grief play told through comedy,” said Ojeda. “That’s the play I read, and that’s the play I hoped I put forth.”
Mistress, maid, midlife crisis. Even amid pure disaster and tragedy, a joke is made. The story is infused with melodrama and an underlying tone of seriousness and somber. There is true love juxtaposed with infidelity, laughter is a consequence of sickness and a rebirth of a relationship as a product of death. Regardless of how enigmatic it is, members of the audience laughed, smiled and cried together.
“Theatre is getting people together and you’re all hearing the same story together, and it’s a very human story,” said Ojeda. “For me, it’s a story about grief, and I think everyone knows grief one way or another.”
Feature image courtesy of Darren Loo
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