Thursday, July 28, 2005

This House is Clean

Last night I went to see Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House at the Woooly Mammoth Theatre in downtown D.C. In short, it's a funny, suburbanized tale of romance, obsessions, and the quest for the perfect joke. There are some light experimental touches, with Ruhl dipping her hand a little into the pool of magical realism and playing slightly with the narrative structure, but it's not so far out that a general audience won't track with it.

I had some small problems with the character of Charles; much of the story turns on the idea that he's madly, madly in love with a vibrant, older woman named Ana. While Ana is wonderful, I didn't believe Charles's love. There were several moments with Charles that I got pulled out of the story and reminded that he was an actor playing a part, and not really Charles. Not having read the script, it's difficult to say if it's the fault of the play itself or of the performance. Making Charles and his love more believable would add to the power of the ending, which as it stands now is nice but didn't hit me in the brain, in the heart, and in the soul like Elmina's Kitchen did earlier this year. The Clean House is a good play, though, getting lots of critical suport following its nomination for the Pullitzer this year. Definitely catch it if you have a chance. More detailed reviews here, here, and even here.

The reason I went last night over another night was to catch the lecture/conversation with author Ruhl and the play's director, Rebecca Bayla Taichman, that followed the play. Taichman gave a brief intro explaining that she brought The Clean House to Wooly because it's one of the few plays she's read that came to life right off the page, and she felt connected to it almost immediately. After that, they invited questions from the audience.

Most of the questions centered around the more fantastical touches of the play--a medical procedure that removes sand from an ailing Ana, quests for healing Yew trees, and a joke so perfect that you die from laughter after hearing it. The audience seemed to struggle with these points of the play, not fully knowing how to interpret them. Were they meat to be real? Dreams? Symbols? All of the above, in my own opinion. People were trying to take the moments too literally, but Ruhl was fairly helpful in pointing the confused towards some answers without completely spelling it out for them.

What struck me most about the evening was the difference between writing for stage and writing for the page. Of course, there's the obvious: the collaborative nature of theatre, the focus on dialogue. I'm particularly intrigued that the stage allowed for some moments of simulataneous action-be they memories viewed by one character or actions occuring in different locations at the same time-that would be very difficult to convey on the page. Although I'll be thinking about possible ways to re-create moments like those on the page the next few days.


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