Theatre Preview: ATP looks to Clean House

By Ryan Pike

Fans of theatre in Calgary often have to exhibit great patience. After all, the tendency is for popular shows to hit Toronto or Vancouver initially and then migrate to Calgary well after their buzz has worn off. Alberta Theatre Projects helps to buck this trend as they bring The Clean House to our fair city a mere 11 months after it was named a finalist for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.

The sixth play written by the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House chronicles the chaos Lane’s (Marie Stillin) household is thrown into when her Brazilian maid, Mathilde (Carmen Aguirre), abandons her duties in favour of exploring her passion of crafting the perfect joke. The housework still manages to get done, thanks to her sister, Virginia (Valerie Ann Pearson), but Lane’s world is turned upside-down by a shocking revelation from her husband, Charles (Brian Dooley). Directing the show is ATP Artistic Director Bob White, last in the director’s chair during the playRites Festival for Le Gros Spectacle. White expresses an admiration for the inventiveness of Ruhl’s latest play.

“The way that she treats the story and the way that she presents the story is totally unique,” White explains. “Just her sheer inventiveness attracted me to the play as a director.”

As a multi Betty Mitchell Award winner, White has a large amount of clout when it comes to getting plays produced. He feels the uniqueness of The Clean House is well-suited to Calgary audiences.

“[The story] appears to be the territory of sitcom land,” White exposits. “But all of a sudden, in the second act, it turns into an exploration of the meaning of love and the nature of compassion. Yet it stays remarkably funny at the same time. It’s continually surprising when you’re watching this play–you can never guess where the plot’s going to go and what you’re going to see next. I think that kind of excitement you see rarely in a play, quite frankly, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring it to Calgary.”

In a strange quirk of fate, The Clean House opens in our neck of the woods well before it opens in the United States’ hotbed of theatre, New York City. Such an occurrence is like the next Harry Potter film premiering in Elkford before Los Angeles.

“It’s opening at Lincoln Center next fall,” White details. “So, indeed, we’re having a rare chance here to see a play before it actually becomes famous.”

Perhaps, with some luck and a strong showing by The Clean House, this occurrence will become the rule rather than the exception. The opportunity to experience and create a buzz around a production has presented itself to Calgary theatregoers, and the production happens to involve an award-winning director, an award-winning writer, and was judged to be one of the three best in the United States last year. It’s a veritable perfect storm of good theatre, something all too rare for Calgary thespians.