Review: ‘The Clean House’ at Big Idea Theatre

The Clean House: Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 12/14; $15-$18; Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd.; (916) 960-3036;
Rated 4.0

“I didn't go to medical school to clean my own house,” says Lane (Laura Kaya) in The Clean House. “I want a stranger to clean my house!”

Enter Matilde (an outstanding Catalina Serrano Bucheli), who sells herself as a maid, even though she dislikes cleaning and really wants to be a comedian (in Portuguese!). Also enter Virginia (Sherri Heller, who shines as Lane's meek sister who has never received the attention she deserves). Exit Charles (Rick Eldredge), Lane's surgeon husband, who has fallen for one of his breast cancer patients, Ana (Irene Velasquez, who makes her character pretty irresistible).

As these five characters make their way through life, playwright Sarah Ruhl tosses in such fantastical elements as the search for the perfect joke (it's somewhere between an Angel and a fart), the search for a mythical tree with curative powers, a trek across Alaska in a snowstorm and a joke that is reputed to make a person die of laughter.

Ruhl incorporates these elements of magical realism uneasily into her play. Yes, they often are funny or touching, but they do not seem fully integrated into the plot.

Eldredge, the only male in the play, holds his own against the quartet of strong women. He glides through “cheating husband” and “unethical doctor” to weirdly understandable and surprisingly sympathetic.

Lori Russo-Ocampo directs on a highly utilitarian, pristine white set by John Ewing.