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The Clean House

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Dust to dust: Lauren Ann Diesch (left) and Christina M. Kruise in The Clean House at Pitt Rep. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STEPHEN GREBINSKI.
  • Photo courtesy of Stephen Grebinski.
  • Dust to dust: Lauren Ann Diesch (left) and Christina M. Kruise in The Clean House at Pitt Rep.

In the program for The Clean House, now receiving production by the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre, we see that the setting is "a metaphysical Connecticut." That is, not the actual northeastern Yuppitopia, but a place that looks and behaves very much like it.

In this petri dish two doctors, Lane and Charles, reside in a sleek, soulless house. Dr. Lane abhors dust and sort of loves her husband. Dr. Charles, rarely seen at home, likes being a doctor and sort of loves his wife. Their housekeeper, Matilde, loves inventing jokes and despises cleaning. Lane's sister, Virginia, loves cleaning but doesn't want a real job. Ana, a cancer-positive widow, is hateful of doctors but loves Charles.

And that, metaphysically and literally, mostly sums it up.

Sarah Ruhl is an acclaimed playwright, and The Clean House earned her a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. And truly, it is Pulitzer material: There are painful surgeries, poetic monologues, vague lessons in multiculturalism (we are constantly reminded that Matilde is Brazilian, where love is of course more authentic), and lots of weird, random diversions -- like a romantic apple-picking and a trip to Alaska to fell a yew tree. Why, stuck-up Lane might even find her Soul! Ana will become the martyred Earth Mother! Houses will be loved for their occasional dinginess! And Sarah Ruhl will become the latest Wendy Wasserstein!

If you like metaphysical people and places, then The Clean House will serve you well. Ana Carolina Noriega, as Lane, is dryly snooty, and it makes for great laughs. Christina M. Kruise makes her Virginia the portrait of well-meant OCD. Alex Stewart, a gentle tenor, has Charles floating in clouds, a sweet vision of the newly love-struck. Lauren Ann Diesch is a confident, maternal Ana. Zilda Alvez, an ebullient and hard-working actress, makes Matilde a real person -- and not just because Alvez is actually Brazilian. Director Tommy Costello blocks them a little much, but all that movement accentuates Mattie Moran's magnificent set.

If you're not fond of metaphysical people and places, the intermissionless Clean House feels a little self-absorbed. Why couldn't it be the real, dirty Connecticut? Why all this antiseptic tomfoolery? Why must the actors speak with Tom Brokaw's porcelain diction? This play's setting doesn't resemble America, or even Planet Earth; rather, it's a bunch of shiny gimmicks and impulses neatly arranged. Sarah Ruhl, like so many Pulitzer contenders, seems afraid of real life -- and that fear, like a storm-drain, swallows all the best dirt.

 

The Clean House continues thru Oct. 26. Henry Heymann Theatre, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow Boulevard, Oakland. 412-624-7529 or www.play.pitt.edu.

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