The Clean House at Santa Paula Theater Center
by Jim Spencer and Shirley Lorraine
If you’re looking for an uncommon experience to close out the year, The Clean House, now playing on stage at the Santa Paula Theater Center may just fit the bill.
It is uncommon in many ways. It does not have a holiday theme. Individual performances are uncommonly good. Parts of the tale range from the sensitive and poignant to the totally anomalous.
Creatively described as a romantic comedy, the story involves a married couple, both physicians, whose young live-in cleaning lady from Brazil wants to be a comedian and who never gets around to actually cleaning the house. There’s an OCD sister whose obsession is cleaning, and who secretly agrees to clean her sister’s home for the maid. Complications increase when the husband announces he is leaving his wife – for an older woman with breast cancer who is also from Brazil.
There are other uncommon elements in the play. The show opens with the maid telling a lengthy joke in Portuguese that is never translated. Some of the dialogue is in Portuguese with subtitles flashed above on the proscenium. The husband goes to Alaska to get a tree with medicinal qualities, but can’t get it onto a commercial flight. So, he can’t return until he learns to fly a plane himself. However, the disparate parts hang together, as confirmed by the fact the script was a 2005 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The entire cast is highly experienced, many with extensive stage, film and television credits and awards. Although truly an ensemble piece, a pivotal performance is delicately and inspiringly delivered by Emmy winner Laurel Lyle as Dr. Lane, the physician-wife whose ordered world is shaken by uncommon events.
Holding down the clean-up spot, Sindy McKay attempts to bring dithering order to the chaos as Virginia, Dr. Lane’s cleanliness obsessed sister, and she does so with a lightheartedness that belies the character’s claims of not being interested in jokes and humor.
The maid and wanna-be comedian is convincingly played by Javiera Torres who gives the character an energy and hope.
Paul Newman portrays the wayward surgeon-husband, Charles, who falls for his patient while performing a mastectomy on her and justifies the situation by quoting Jewish law, even though he’s not Jewish.
Carmen Saveiros, who really was born in Brazil, is genuine and endearing as Ana, whose spirit and verve ultimately touch and enrich all the other characters and cause Charles to forsake his spouse.
The director is another Emmy winner, Larry Swerdlove, who has recently been adding polish and dimensions to multiple local theater productions by regularly helming plays, not only in Santa Paula, but at Ventura’s Flying H Group Theatre and the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard.
The Clean House plays weekends to December 20. Santa Paula Theater Center, 7th & Main Streets, Santa Paula. Friday & Saturday – 8 p.m. Sunday – 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $18-$20. 525-4645 or www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.