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Theater review: 'The Clean House' at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

May 28, 2010 |  6:30 pm
400.Img_4085 First produced in 2004, Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer-nominated “The Clean House,” now at the Odyssey, has been widely produced and widely lauded, and rightfully so.The play sets a new standard for humanity in the contemporary theater.

Set in an affluent American household on the far side of reality, Ruhl’s deceptively simple play treats such far-ranging topics as class division, marital strife, life’s torturing evanescence, and the benison of forgiveness, and it does so with an absurdist edge that is distinctive.

Matilde (Elizabeth Liang, a standout among this superlative cast) is a Brazilian immigrant who has been hired by affluent doctor Lane (Colette Kilroy) as a domestic.  But Matilde, an aspiring comedian in pursuit of the perfect joke, detests cleaning, a shortfall fortuitously redressed by Lane’s sister, Virginia (D.J. Harner), who uses housework as therapy to fill an empty life.  When Lane’s husband and fellow doctor, Charles (Don Fischer) leaves her for a free-spirited older mastectomy patient (Denise Blasor), Lane’s badly abraded emotions ultimately produce unaccustomed pearls of wisdom and compassion.

Ruhl plays it fast, loose and funny, with a second-act plot contrivance transparently designed to get the sole male off the scene so the women can banter and bond.  Unfortunately, director Stefan Kruck sometimes emphasizes the twee in Ruhl’s outlandishness, which can turn things simply silly.  Certain rudimentary errors in blocking – such as positioning a wide-eyed corpse so its blinking can be clearly seen – further undermine the integrity of his staging.

– F. Kathleen Foley

“The Clean House,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  8 p.m. Wednesday 6/2, 6/9 & 6/16 only.  Sun. 6/6 & 6/27 at 7 p.m. only.  Ends July 3.  $25-$30.  Running time:  2 hours.

Photo: Elizabeth Liang, left, Denise Blasor, Colette Kilroy, and D.J. Harner. Photo credit: Courtesy of Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.