Uma comédia no estilo realismo mágico que fala de perda, amor, mudança e redenção. Lane é uma médica muito séria e focada em sua carreira, que contrata uma empregada doméstica bastante peculiar. O poblema é que Matilde, a empregada, odeia limpar. Ela sonha mesmo é em ser uma comediante e pensar na piada perfeita, aquela que faria com que o ouvinte morresse, literalmente, de tanto rir. Lane é deixada por seu marido, que está apaixonado por uma mulher latina mais velha em quem acabou de fazer uma mastectomia. Só que a doença persiste e envolve a vida de todas as personagens. THE CLEAN HOUSE foi finalista para o Pulitzer Prize de Drama de 2005. Sarah Ruhl recebeu o MacArthur Fellowship "Genius Grant" em 2006.
Dramaturgia Sarah Ruhl
Direção Jessica Thebus
Elenco Guenia Lemos, Mary Beth Fischer, Christine Estabrook, Patrick Clear &
  Marilyn Dodds Frank
Direção de Produção Joseph Drummond
Assistência de Produção T. Paul Lynch
Iluminação James F. Ingalls
Figurino Linda Roethke
Cenário Todd Rosenthal
Sonoplastia & Musica Original Andre Pluess & Ben Sussman
Dramaturgo Tanya Palmer
Diretor Artístico Robert Falls
Diretor Executivo Roche Schulfer
Realização Goodman Theatre
THE CLEAN HOUSE estreou no Goodman Theatre, Chicago, em 2006.
Life plays its messy games in "Clean House"
Hedy Weiss

Lane, a busy doctor, craves a spotless home, and her starkly modernist house of white furniture and glass walls is as sterile as an operating room. As it happens, Matilde, her beautiful young Brazilian maid, gets depressed only when she has to clean it; she much prefers pursuing her obsession for crafting the perfect joke. Yet as luck would have it, Virginia -- Lane's smart, childless, undervalued sister -- has a passion for housekeeping, and is never happier than when scrubbing a toilet.

As for Charles, Lane's seemingly mellow, long-devoted surgeon husband, something rather messy is about to happen. He will discover the great love of his life in Ana, an older Brazilian woman with a glowing spirit and terminal breast cancer. Before her life is over, he will venture into the frozen north for a healing yew tree. Meanwhile, all of these women will come close to laughing (and crying) themselves to death.

In his program note about "The Clean House," the wistful, zany, altogether captivating play by Sarah Ruhl that opened Monday night at the Goodman Theatre -- and in which all these characters appear -- artistic director Robert Falls compares the Wilmette-born Ruhl to other Chicago-nurtured writers such as Rebecca Gilman and Scott McPherson. In fact, the playwright whose spirit emerges most strongly in this work is a much older and more fundamental one -- Samuel Beckett.

In Beckett's play "Happy Days," a woman named Winnie, who is buried up to her waist in earth, yet rarely allows herself to be anything less than upbeat, babbles on and says, "Oh, well, what does it matter, that is what I always say, so long as one ... you know ... what is that wonderful line... laughing wild ... something something laughing wild amid severest woe."

Beckett is actually referring to a poem by Thomas Gray that talks of "moody Madness laughing wild amidst severest woe." And if ever there were a perfect line to sum up "The Clean House," that would be it. For as it happens -- and Ruhl nails the notion -- life is the biggest joke of all. Whether it is blackly comic, certifiably insane, pornographic or truly joyful, it has only one punch line -- death.

The little miracle of "The Clean House" is that it suggests all this without ever being literal. Absurdity rules the day; yet easily recognizable reality intrudes at every turn, even if it sometimes takes the form of magical realism, as when apples collected in one place drop, Newton-like, into a completely different environment. The essential lunacy of it all can never be fully camouflaged, no matter how clean (or dirty) the laundry, how painful (or liberating) the truth. We should all die laughing.

Director Jessica Thebus, an early champion of the ineffably gifted Ruhl (who is still very young, but also very wise), has done a splendid job of capturing the play's subtle beauty, surprisingly steely whimsy and imaginative stylistic tricks. And she has gathered an ideal cast to capture its tragicomic edge.

Guenia Lemos, a tall, coltish stunner who bears a striking resemblance to Julia Roberts (but is completely in control of the stage), is Matilde, with Marilyn Dodds Frank, marvelously shrewd and radiant, as Ana -- the two women who literally and figuratively speak the same language. Mary Beth Fisher (as Lane) and Christine Estabrook (as Virginia) easily suggest the wonderful twists of the same DNA as ever-warring sisters who are not so radically different, after all. Patrick Clear is the quintessential lost-and-found male of the species, whose efforts are at once heroic and laughable.

As for Todd Rosenthal's magnificent set, it is an architectural trick box -- one that lets the antiseptic geometry of Mies van der Rohe wake up to lush tropicalia: a model of control and abandon.

"The Clean House"
Mary Shen Barnidge

There are fundamentally two kinds of housekeepers: those who revel in the opportunity to forestall psychological distress through immersion in grubby physical activity (claiming “It relaxes me”) , and those who long to wave a magic wand, instantaneously rendering their quarters immaculate from top to bottom. In this satirical comedy, Dr. Lane is one of the latter and her sister, Virginia, one of the former. Convention, however, dictates that Lane hire a maid—a Brazilian gamine, unfortunately also disinclined to domestic drudgery. Ah, but Matilde has a gift denied to her superiors—a sense of humor that defies discontent, disease and even death. So when Lane’s husband unexpectedly falls for a dying Argentine widow, it is up to the clever servant to teach them all to laugh at society’s artificial strictures.

Sarah Ruhl’s wry parable could easily have knotted itself into a tangle of dramatic themes: the individual’s search for cosmological stability, the importance of following one’s own bliss, the elevation of emotion over intellect, earthy Latin passion versus sterile WASP propriety, the search for the secrets of the universe—the key to which, according to Matilde, lies in the perfect joke. The fanciful elements in this Goodman production (Brechtian subtitles, simultaneous action in multiple locales, long stretches of dialogue in foreign languages and ticklishly on-point incidental music by the reliable team of Ben Sussman and Andrew Pluess) likewise risk courting confusion. And a topic of debate in the lobby post-opening night was whether the brave martyr whose illness unites her caretakers is a flesh-and-bone woman or a magic-realistic spirit.

Under Jessica Thebus’ sprightly direction, however, motifs that might have proved puzzling or excessive—a distraught lover singlehandedly fetching home an Alaskan Yew tree in a vain effort to heal his beloved, for example—instead elicit the most comfortable of chuckles, thanks to Guenia Lemos’ irrepressible Matilde, whose candid observations keep us safely oriented from her first words (recounting a funny—and probably bawdy—story in a language we may not understand, but applaud heartily, nonetheless). LIFE is a joke, says Ruhl, and its inevitable cessation is the most ironic punchline of all, so let us celebrate its messy joys with laughter while we still can.

"The Clean House"
Jeff Nelson

Playwright Sarah Ruhl one night overheard part of a conversation at a cocktail party when a doctor discussed methods of motivating her maid to do better housework because she did not go to medical school to clean her own house. Many extrapolations, one play, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination later, we have "The Clean House" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and this look at our neurotic world has many new angles.

Wilmette native Ruhl is a graduate of New Trier High School and Brown University and has been interested in play writing since her high school days, but her early efforts to get produced in the Chicago area were not very successful. So, heading back to graduate school at Brown and mentor Paula Vogel, she polished her craft and started hitting success Off Broadway and in regional theaters. With "The Clean House" shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 (losing to the still Broadway strong "Doubt"), it was only a matter of time before she returned home for a major production. Now with this splendid homecoming which the Goodman is hosting, we have a chance to see our neglected prophet of modern life find honor on her home turf.

This story of two physicians married to each other who employ a recently arrived Brazilian housekeeper begins with such simplicity you wonder where it can go. But mixing humor, our unique upper class neuroses, and tragedy, Ms. Ruhl gives us a vision of a world that Woody Allen might have written if he were a woman. Director Jessica Thebus plays the events superbly for every ounce of humor they contain, but never looses sight of the serious content just beneath, and the vivid characters who recreate this disordered upper class world.

Todd Rosenthal's wonderful set gives a stage full of settings and upper class moods. Ms. Thebus' cast of Mary Beth Fisher, Patrick Clear, Christine Estabrook, Marilyn Dodds Frank, and Guenia Lemos performs the nuances of these neuroses with conviction and perfect timing. Ms. Lemos who has perfected the role of the Brazilian housekeeper, who wants to be a stand up comic and hates cleaning, nearly steals the show. To steal a show from this is no mean achievement, but her flawless timing that allows her to tell jokes in Portuguese that are funnier than most of what you hear in English, gives you an idea of the breadth of her talents. If ever an audience could fall for a reluctant cleaning lady, this is the one.

Clean Sweep at the Goodman
Jeff Bennett

Even in the cleanest house, a little dirt must fall. This is true in the Goodman Theatre Company’s production of The Clean House, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Award, written by prolific playwright, Sarah Ruhl, and directed by her long-time collaborator, Jessica Thebus. The slick and warmly funny production is a clean sweep…perfectly written, deftly cast, and strongly performed.

The Clean House is the tale of a successful and busy doctor, Lane (Mary Beth Fisher) who hires a Brazilian cleaning woman, Matilde, (Guenia Lemos) to clean her house, but Matlilde’s attitude towards dirt is, “if the floor is dirty, look at the ceiling.” Cleaning the house also makes Matilde sad, and even though Lane medicates her, she still idles around the house, not cleaning a thing, and trying to come up with the funniest joke in the world. When it is obvious that the Zoloft isn’t working, Lane’s sister Virginia, (Christine Estabrook), a morose woman herself who is obsessed with cleanliness, offers to take over and clean the house on the sly. For a few weeks, this arrangement seems to be the perfect solution but then all hell breaks loose.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl was inspired for the script at a cocktail party after overhearing a doctor who medicated her own maid to get her to clean house because as she said, “I didn’t go to medical school to clean my own house!”

In the opening monologue, Guenia Lemos, as Matilde, stands on a stark stage and tells a joke to the audience in Portuguese. Even though it is impossible to understand a word she is saying, Lemos had the audience in stitches. Her performance was delicate and Lemos avoided the easy choice of making Matilde a cardboard stereotypical maid we so often see.

Mary Beth Fisher, as Lane, the uptight doctor who just wants a clean house, is the most unlikable of characters in the play as she whizzes in and out trying to keep everything together. Her performance is perfect–especially after she allows us to see the cracks in her tough exterior and her neat world exploding into dirty little pieces.

Christina Estabrook, as Virginia, Lane’s “clean freak” sister, gives the best performance in the cast. She is nutty one minute, and strikingly sane the next as she tries to maintain an even keel by not only keeping her house squeaky clean, but also keeping he sister’s clean.

Todd Rosenthal’s stark set is just as important a cast member as anyone on stage. It’s whiter than white and perfectly echoes Lane’s struggle to keep it all together.

Sarah Ruhl is a native of Wilmette Illinois and is one of the “most produced writers in America this season.” Robert Falls, Goodman’s Artistic Director says, “Every so often, a play comes along that is so original, insightful, and genuinely unique that it literally demands to be done.” Few playwrights are able to mix comedy and pathos into such a perfect blend. This is a gem of a play!

"The Clean House," Funny in Any Language
Alan Bresloff

The Goodman Theatre is showing one of the funniest plays I have seen in a long time—Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House. This Chicago premiere is a 'twisted piece of work' that will keep your interest from the very onset and leave you wanting more. The script has fantasy elements that make it funny, but this production is far funnier than the script, thanks to its marvelous interpretation by Jessica Thebus who directs each movement as if it were a symphony of comedy!

The characters include Matilde, a maid who gets depressed at the thought of housekeeping; Lane, a doctor who has medicated her depressed maid so she will clean her house; the doctor's sister who has nothing in life but to clean; and Lane's husband, a noted surgeon who has fallen deeply in love with a patient dealing with terminal cancer. Together these characters make for a laugh riot. Lane, the doctor (Mary Beth Fisher) appears to be happy but only wants those around her to do what she was created to do—help people. Her sister Virginia (Christine Estabrook) is unhappily married, has no children and loves to clean. She grew up in Lane's shadow and never accomplished her dreams. The maid, Matilde (Guenia Lemos, a Brazilian actress making her Chicago debut) had parents who were the two funniest people in Brazil, and she was the third. One day her father told her mother his "greatest joke" ever, and she died laughing. This incident inspires Matilde's life mission to create the perfect joke.

As mentioned, cleaning depresses Matilde, but Virginia loves to clean. So Virginia comes by each day and takes over cleaning duties, freeing up Matilde to concentrate on creating a great joke. Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Charles (Patrick Clear) is treating a cancer patient, Ana (Marilyn Dodds Frank) also from Brazil, and they have fallen in love, believing they are soul mates.

The ensuing scenes of the relationship between husband/wife, sister/sister/maid, husband/all over allow for a series of jokes that are told in a combination of Spanish and Portuguese. While there are subtitles for some of the dialog, ("The best investment ever is to buy an Argentinean for what he is really worth and later sell him for what he thinks he is worth,") Ms. Lemos (Matilde) remains funny without them; you may not understand the words at all but the audience is still left to wonder—will I die laughing?

Catch, too, the wonderful set by Todd Rosenthal, creative lighting by James F. Ingalls and original music and sound by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.

"The Clean House"
Tom Williams

Chicago playwright Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House is a refreshingly original hybrid that is part comedy of manners, part surrealistic fantasy, part domestic relationship and part a look at the effects of humor on the psyche especially in relationship to death. It uses the metaphor of cleaning one’s house to define the personality of the four women. In a clever, often hilarious production at the Goodman Theatre’s main stage, The Clean House unfolds as a fable-like treatment of modern American culture where our frantic lives leave no time for domestic chores such as cleaning one’s house. It pokes fun at the guilt we all have when dust and dirt invade our homes forcing us to clean before the cleaning lady arrives.

Director Jessica Thebus mounts a fast paced show that promises much and delivers enough to make its ambitious premise work to create one of the most visionary comedy-dramas in many years. Todd Rosenthal’s ultra-modern white suburban house set with large skylight suggests a sterile environment a successful woman doctor, Lane (Mary Beth Fisher, in a terrific realistic performance) would enjoy. She will not clean ands hires Matilde (pronounced mah-chill-gee), played with zest by Guenia Lemos to do the cleaning. Matilde is Brazilian and finds cleaning so depressing that it distracts her from finding “the perfect joke.” Virginia (Christine Estabrook), Lane’s excessive-compulsive sister defines her self-worth in terms of the amount of dirt she can clean. She and Matilde form a pact that allows Virginia to clean Lane’s house while Matilde searches her mind for the perfect joke. This neat premise uses clever monologues and smart exchanges to land both humor and set-ups for the play. Matilde’s early delivery of a joke in Brazilian Portuguese garnered laughs even though few could understand its meaning.

When Lane’s surgeon husband Charles (Patrick Clear) introduces his newly found soul mate Ana (Marilyn Dodds Frank), Lane’s ordered life becomes chaotic. Ana is a sixty something breast cancer patient of Charles who desires a man before show she succumbs to cancer. Ana could be a mythological figure sent to connect and fulfill each character’s needs? She adds clarity as she connects to the desire of each. She gives Charles’ nurturing and sexual fulfillment while she reminds Matilde of her departed mother. Virginia finds her purpose in nursing Ana and Lane overcomes her jealousy as her compassion allows her to help a needy patient.

Ruhl’s script nicely moves from absurdity to realism to fantasy seamlessly to produce genuine laughter while offering a hopeful look at how humor can positively heal sickness both of the body and the soul. You’d be hard pressed to witness a finer acted show that balances the poignant moments with the wacky ones. Guenia Lemos’ Matilde and Mary Beth Fisher’s Lane are especially excellent here.

When you see The Clean House, you’ll witness a talented, inventive new voice in Sarah Ruhl.

"The Clean House"
John Beer

Inspired by a chance remark at a cocktail party--a doctor proclaiming, "I didn't go to medical school to clean my own house!"--Sarah Ruhl's inspired new play, now running at the Goodman, is a blend of meticulous social observation and visionary magical realism. Above all, it reflects Ruhl's determination to push the limits of theatrical convention while remaining solidly committed to clear storytelling. The setup is simple: high-powered surgeon Lane (Mary Beth Fisher) has trouble dealing with her depressed live-in maid, Matilde (Guenia Lemos). Matilde would rather pursue her dream of a comedy career than clean houses. Lane's sister Virginia (Christine Estabrook) strikes a secret bargain with Matilde: she'll do the cleaning, which she finds therapeutic. The play's first act focuses on the rich and socially fraught relationships of these three women. The incisive performances by a gifted trio of actresses, all blessed with a wicked sense of timing, makes the first half of "The Clean House" thoroughly delightful. The second act, in which the mysterious Ana (Marilyn Dodds Frank) gradually takes over the household, is rather more diffuse and occasionally slips into the overly ridiculous, as Lane's husband (Patrick Clear) takes off on an Arctic quest. The moments that work, though, like the transformation of Lane's Spartan apartment by teeming bushels of apples, are simultaneously thought-provoking and stunningly beautiful. The production benefits throughout by Jessica Thebus' crisp and pitch-perfect direction.

Skillfully cast "Clean House" is a delightful play
Chris Jones

TWilmette isn't normally thought of as a hotbed of magic realism, but North Shore native Sarah Ruhl has developed a quite astounding felicity for sensual and whimsical theatrics laced with both thematic smarts and simple human compassion.

The 32-year-old Ruhl's elegant and thoroughly enjoyable play "The Clean House" doesn't entirely live up to its first-act promise. But anyone attending Jessica Thebus' light and lovely new production at the Goodman Theatre will surely arrive at the conclusion that they're watching an early work from a major American playwright of the future.

Early in this woman-centered, proudly domestic play, which already has many admirers around the country, Ruhl lays out her basic theme: Look at women's different attitudes toward cleaning house, she argues, and you can discern their contrasting essence.

Ruhl's central character, an affluent doctor named Lane (Mary Beth Fisher) hates cleaning and thus has hired a young Brazilian named Matilde (Guenia Lemos) to do the job. Only Matilde, a budding comedian mourning the death of her parents, is depressed and hates to clean, even on a good day. "We took her to the hospital and we had her medicated," Lane tells the audience, in some despair, "and she still wouldn't clean."

Enter Lane's sister, Virginia (Christine Estabrook), a woman who believes that cleaning is what reminds us we're human. "If you do not clean," Virginia declares, "how do you know if you have made progress in life?"

Things go from there. Virginia and Matilde cook up a surreptitious scheme so that one can indulge her pleasure and the other can keep her job. Lane's life seems to fall apart when her surgeon husband, Charles (Patrick Clear) runs off with an exotic woman named Ana (Marilyn Dodds Frank), only for that extramarital relationship to become something more complex.

The play's best moments are when it explores the peculiar intimacy of cleaning someone else's dirt, which it claverly treats as a fine metaphor for all kinds of matters of personal import. Pretty much everyone who has ever hired a cleaner is familiar with the guilt that invariably ensues — and the latent unease that someone else might discern the deeply personal secrets hidden in the dirty laundry. Some of us have cleaned house purely for the benefit of the cleaner. And still worried.

Ruhl gets to the heart of that paradox — and also to the way our chaotic American lives, lived in a constant state of exhaustion, don't leave any time for such menial tasks, even though they actually can ground us in something deeper than attending meetings or churning out reports. She also understands that who does and does not clean cannot be totally understood through class or economic need. "I love cleaning the toilet," says the well-bred Virginia, making logical sense in her worldview, "it's so dirty and then it's so clean."

The more fanciful parts of the play, dealing with Lane's ever-morphing relationship to the proverbial other woman, don't always ring as true, with some of the second-act whimsy feeling more forced.

But this remains a delightful play. And director Thebus, who has known Ruhl for years, seems deftly in sync. With the help of a smartset design from Todd Rosenthal, Thebus wisely resists any temptation to over­produce work that could have been drowned on this stage.

The piece is skillfully cast. Vulnerable and credible, Fisher is in fine fettle as Lane, a repressed if fundamentally decent woman trying to adapt to life's shifting clouds of dust. Lemos, who has played this role before, offers just the right quirky sense of uncertain certitude. And although Estabrook's Virginia seems straightforward, domestic and confined, that actually masks considerable profundity.

Much the same could be said of the play.

"The Clean House"
Jenn Q. Goddu

Sarah Ruhl's comedy "The Clean House" features a depressed housemaid grieving her parents, an unhappy housewife seeking a task in life and her sister, as well as a doctor whose confidence crumbles when her surgeon husband leaves her for a cancer patient he falls in love with in his consulting room. And yes, this really is a comedy.

Better still it is a breezy comedy driven by wry wit and whimsy rather than the dark comedy one might expect when dealing with grief, strained sibling relationships, infidelity, depression and disease. Fleetly directed by Jessica Thebus on an expressive set designed by Todd Rosenthal, this Goodman production offers laugh-out-loud funny lines and flights of fancy.

The first act of the play errs on the side of establishing character dynamics and lacks the immediacy of the far more entertaining second half. Yet by the end of these two hours we're thoroughly drawn in by the show's energy and intimacy. The more bitter moments of disappointment or despair are balanced throughout by Ruhl's light comic touch and the actors' ability to realistically portray their characters' problems while also deftly communicating the show's more fantastical and far-fetched sequences.

Guenia Lemos is vibrant as Matilde, a Brazilian maid willing to let her boss's sister clean the house while she works to craft the perfect joke. She is such a charismatic presence we can immediately see how she might bring out the best in Christine Estabrook's Virginia, a compulsive cleaner who longs to be needed, or the flustered worst in Mary Beth Fisher's self-contained Lane, who gradually softens and grows.

Linda Roethke's costuming too bluntly underlines character transformations (darker/ brighter colors equals more vibrant embrace of life), but it is refreshing to meet Marilyn Dodds Frank's jewel-tone clad Ana and touching to see the depth of emotion she elicits from Patrick dear's Charles as he enthusiastically leaves his wife, assuming she will understand because he believes he's found his soulmate.

The play offers a positive perspective on familiar disappointments and despairs. Presenting life's sadness with such an eye for the bright side, focusing on forgiveness, family bonds, the joy of romance and especially the power of laughter, gives "The Clean House" a surprising freshness.

Laughs, but with a purpose
Scott Morgan

Typically, when critics liken plays to TV sitcoms, it's done with contempt But in the case of Sarah Ruhl’s hilarious "The Clean House" at the Goodman Theatre; the comparison (as domestic diva Martha Stewart would say) is undoubtedly "a good thing.”

If this 2005 Pulitzer-finalist play was a sitcom, it would need no canned laugh track. Wilmette-native Ruhl has a way with comic dialogue that simultaneously plays up its artificiality while being insightful and genuine. Ruhl’s typical sitcom stock characters are also imbued here with a true-to-life depth through flashes of anger and haunting self-doubt.

"The Clean House" contains a depressed Brazilian maid named Matilde (Guenia Lemos) who would rather be cracking jokes as a standup comedian than polishing the silver. So Matilde's bosses, a high-maintenance married couple of doctors named Lane (Mary Beth Fisher) and Charles (Patrick Clear), prescribe her antidepressants to stop her moping.

When that doesn't work, Lane's sister, Virginia (Christine Estabrook), volunteers to clean for Matilde in secret. Why? Virginia actually enjoys cleaning since it gives a purpose to her rueful life of "what-ifs."

When this secret cleaning arrangement exposes an adulterous affair, the orderly house is thrown into chaos. Charles only exasperates things by bringing home his mistress, Ana (Marilyn Dodds Frank), a stereotypically vivacious Argentine whom he first met as a mastectomy patient.

In the playful hands-of director Jessica Thebus, everything in the Goodman's "Clean House" is polished to a dazzling shine. The priceless comic actors all revel in Ruhl's text, finessing the humor with the choicest of glances or physical bits that make audiences erupt in titters and guffaws of laughter.

"The Clean House" is also ordered very well from a stylistic and symbolic design perspective. Todd Rosenthal’s sets are antiseptically modern and white for Lane's house while Ana's hovering balcony bursts with bold Matisse-like colors. Costumer Linda Roethke dresses all the unhappy people monochromatically at first, only allowing patterns and shades of color in when Ana’s warm spectrum of reds and oranges starts to rub off on everyone.

Rulh’s “Clean House" is both funny and touching in extremes, dusting off life's resentments and disappointments for laughs while finding joy in the tragic outcomes of death and disease.

So don't be ashamed to say if "The Clean House" is reminiscent of sophisticated sitcoms like the late "Frasier" or "Will and Grace" (before it got tired in its final seasons). "The Clean House" does what the best sitcoms can do: Offer a cleansing release of laughter via an involving and well-crafted comedy.

"The Clean House"
Ruth Smerling

Sarah Ruhl could easily be a Richard Greenberg soulmate as well. 'The Clean House' at the Goodman Theatre is another work with all kinds of incidents and moments that have no basis in what we know, or at least what we think of as reality.

Matilde (Guenia Lemos) is a Brazilian housekeeper by day. But her ultimate goal is to honor her deceased parents, the two funniest people in Brazil, by telling the ultimate joke. The kind of joke that will have people rolling in the aisles and in need of adult diapers every time they think of it. She works on it in her native tongue, Portuguese, so it's hard to know what's so funny.

She hates her job. And what's even worse, she works for the most serious person alive, Lane (Mary Beth Fisher), a doctor who sees sick people all day and wants to come home to a clean house. Instead, she comes home to find Matilde having neglected the housework. When she tells this to her never-a-hair-out-of-place sister Virginia (Christine Estabrook), Virginia, secretly comes up with a plan.

Like Monica Geller from NBC's 'Friends,' Virginia loves to clean. It's almost a religion with her. So when she knows Lane is at the hospital, she goes to visit Matilde. She tells her that she can help her by doing the housework for her. Lane will never find out, and the house will be clean, and then Matilde can work on her joke. Of course, the house is spotless and Lane is ecstatic. Until she finds out her husband, Charles (Patrick Clear) is having an affair. Charles is also a doctor and he falls in love with a patient he wants to heal, who really is happy to die.

When she gets the news, Matilde takes her through the looking glass. Lane comes home early and catches Virginia doing the housework. Matilde is fantasizing about how her parents fell in love at the same time Lane is fantasizing about the woman Charles is in love with. Matilde asks her who the people are in her fantasy. From this point the Richard Greenberg mode sets in. The patient goes in for surgery and the whole story now becomes a dream under anesthesia and makes perfect sense.

Unlike 'The Retreat from Moscow,' the delightful Guenia Lemos gives 'The Clean House' an instant sense of humor, but Virginia's cleaning fanaticism and all the daydreams that come to life still leave the audience a little off balance until the punchline.

Costume are very important and designer Linda Roethke attires the sisters with striking tailored outfits for the sisters and very comfy attire for Matilde. The fantasy characters are all dressed elaborately. These fantasy characters represent a lack of something in each of the dreamers lives, something unattainable and unexplained.

"The Clean House"
Alan Bresloff

Goodman Theatre has shown some excellent taste in play selection this season—subscribers are having a wonderful season—those of you who don't subscribe still have some time to get seats for one of the funniest plays I have witnessed in a long time. The Chicago premier of Sarah Ruhl's "The Clean House" in the Albert is a "twisted piece of work" that will keep your interest from the very onset and leave you wanting more. This is a unique, original and very real story with fantasy just to make the spice needed to get to the punch line. Try to imagine the characters in this play (and see if they don't ring familiar).

Lane, a doctor who has medicated her depressed maid so she will clean her house; a maid who gets depressed at the thought of doing housekeeping, the doctor's sister who has nothing in life but to clean and the docs husband, a noted surgeon who has fallen deeply in love with a patient who is dealing with cancer and death. These characters merge together in great harmony to make for a laugh riot. The script (of which we were given some pages) is funny, but this play is far funnier than the script thanks to the marvelous interpretation of the work by Jessica Thebus who directs this play and each and every movement as if it were a symphony of comedy- and what a cast!

Mary Beth Fisher, no stranger to Chicago audiences is Lane, the doctor who appears to be happy with her life and only wants those around her to allow her to do what she was created to do—help people. Her sister Virginia (Christine Estabrook, a newcomer to the Goodman and she is a delight to watch) is unhappily married, has no children and loves to clean. She grew up in Lane's shadow and never accomplished her dreams. The maid, Matilde is handled with just the right touch by Guenia Lemos, a Brazilian actress who makes her Chicago debut in this powerful role. Matilde's parents were the two funniest people in Brazil, she was the third. Her parents always made jokes until one day, her father told her mother the "greatest joke" he ever made up and she died laughing. This is what she wants to do—make the perfect joke. Since cleaning depresses her and Virginia loves to clean, Virginia comes by each day and takes over the cleaning as Matilde thinks about her joke.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital Charles (the very funny and charming Patrick Clear) is treating a cancer patient, Ana (a strong performance by Marilyn Dodds Frank) also from Brazil and they have fallen in love—they are "soulmates," the person that each of us spends their entire lives searching for and that most never really find. The ensuing scenes of the relationship between man/wife, sister/sister, husband/lover, maid with everyone are just one laugh riot after another—be careful that you don't die laughing (but isn't it better to die from laughter than from pain and suffering?).

FYI—the jokes are told in a combination Spanish/Portuguese and while there are subtitles for some of the dialog, there are not for the jokes—funny thing is, Ms Lemos is so good at telling the jokes, they are hysterical even if you don't understand the words at all. Just be prepared to see five of the finest actors have a great time and keep you in stitches on a wonderful set by Todd Rosenthal, with creative lighting by James F. Ingalls and original music and sound by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.

"The Clean House" will run through June 4th (I would hope they can extend this so more people get the opportunity to laugh out loud) with performances as follows: Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m.

"O melhor investimento é comprar um argentino pelo valor que ele vale e depois vendê-lo pelo valor que ele acha que vale."

"The best investment ever is to buy an Argentinean for what he is really worth and later sell him for what he thinks he is worth."

Enjoy this brilliant production!

Goodman’s "Clean House"’ shines brightly for audiences
Ed Lowe

Whether to define Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer Prize finalist play, "The Clean House," as comedy with heavy dramatic undertones or as drama with comedic highlights is pretty much up to the viewer. This new play has opened at the Goodman Theater for a run that will last until June 11. But, whichever way you want to view the play, it is great theater!

Directed by Jessica Thebus, Ruhl's long time collaborator, the cast of five deal with such pithy elements of life as death by cancer, marital stability, career influence on lifestyle and family relationships, all with a search for the world's funniest joke. It searches for that joke in the context of a modern bright white Miesian-furnished apartment and an expedition to an apple orchard involving the picking of bushels of fresh apples.

The glue that holds all these elements together is in the character of a housemaid named Matilde, beautifully played by Guenia Lemos, a Brazilian actress making her Chicago debut. This challenging role should establish her as a strong part of Chicago's theater scene. Her employer, Lane, played by Mary Beth Fisher, is a doctor who is falling apart at the seams. Her only requirement is a clean house which is Matilde's responsibility. Matilde hates housecleaning and, in fact, aspires to be a comedian who will eventually write the world's funniest joke.

Lane's sister, Virginia, played by Christine Estabrook, on the other hand, is unfulfilled by any activity other than house cleaning. Lane's outwardly successful marriage to another doctor, Charles, played by Patrick Clear, bubbles along satisfactorily until Charles encounters a patient, Aria, played by Marilyn Dodds Frank, with whom he falls in love despite her terminal illness.

Particularly noteworthy in the production is the use of supertitles, not for translating dialogue but as an aid in moving the plot along and providing some of the comedy relief that is an essential part of the play. The sets, by Todd Rosenthal, reflect not only the cleanliness of the apartment and the sterility of Lane's life but the coolness of modern life in general. Lane initially appears in white but gradually, as her life becomes less self-absorbed, affects a wardrobe that is a reflection of those changes. Matilde is dressed in black. The contrast is telling.

The Goodman is located at 170 N. Dearborn St., in the Loop. For tickets, call the box office at (312) 443-3800. This is certainly a performance you won't want to miss.

"The Clean House"
Joe Stead

Chicago native Sarah Ruhl is one of the hot new emerging playwrights in the contemporary theatre today, and the Goodman Theatre was understandably anxious to pounce on the Chicago Premiere of her Pulitzer Prize nominated play, "The Clean House." It is a decidedly strange and kooky piece, a modern absurdist comedy that teeter-totters between realism and fantasy. And it has a quartet of actresses who narrow like finely skilled surgeons into the frequently pungent wit and dramatic complexities. It's also an intimate work that gets a bit lost on the Goodman's vast Albert Theatre stage. Director Jessica Thebus and her designers have done their utmost to make the show work, but we end up viewing the work through the wrong end of a telescope. A smaller stage would have been more accommodating, although a finer cast and production values would be hard to imagine.

Supposedly based on a real life conversation Ruhl overheard in a doctor’s office, "The Clean House" is a sharply incisive tragicomedy along the lines of Beth Henley's "Crimes of the Heart." The central characters are Lane, a well-heeled doctor at an important hospital, her Brazilian maid Matilde, her fanatically clean sister Virginia, Lane's husband Charles, and his lover and "soulmate" Ana. Lane is uncomfortable giving orders in her home, but expects her maid to keep the place clean and tidy without having to ask. Matilde finds cleaning depressing and prefers thinking up the world's best joke. Virginia, on the other hand, has no occupation and is more than happy to lend a hand with the housework.

"If you don't clean, how do you know you've made any progress in life?" Virginia asks. Matilde accepts Virginia's offer to make her feel better, but promises, "A good joke cleans you inside out." While sorting through her sister and brother in law's unmentionables, Virginia comes across a pair of unfamiliar panties. Lane's imagination dances with images of her husband and his new lover, Ana. And while the characters play a game of romantic roulette, reality, fantasy and fatal illness all intermingle. As Matilde says, "Love isn't clean, it's dirty, like a good joke."

In one moment that sums up the experience, Mary Beth Fisher's Lane responds to a joke with an almost inseparable laugh and cry. Fisher's performance is stunning, as is the terrific work of her colleagues Guenia Lemos (Matilde), Christine Estabrook (Virginia) and Marilyn Dodds Frank (Ana). It is most definitely a woman's play from a distinctly female perspective, which may be why Charles (Patrick Clear) feels more like an incidental cameo. Todd Rosenthal's modern and pricey looking setting is immaculate and sleek, and opens up to reveal a gorgeous balcony scene in Act Two. So what if the play doesn't really demand visual tricks. The Goodman has the kind of budget and sheer size most theatre companies would commit homicide for. And even though the play really cries out for a smaller perspective, the Goodman's production is funny, occasionally touching and spanking clean.