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THEATER REVIEW: “The Clean House”

Maid Matilde (Nadia Guevara) can tell a great joke (in Portuguese) but doesn’t like to clean houses. Connecticut surgeon Lane (Kristianne Kurner) isn’t much interested in Matilde’s jokes, but wants her house cleaned.

Lane’s sister Virginia (Hannah Logan), an obsessive cleaner who walks around with a toilet brush in her purse, thinks “people who give up the privilege of cleaning their own houses — they’re insane people.” But Lane doesn’t want her sister to act as cleaning lady.

Is there hope for this trio?

You betcha, at least in the harvesting of laughs department. Sarah Ruhl’s quirky play “The Clean House” gets a sparkling production through Oct. 26 at New Village Arts Theatre, under the assured direction of Claudio Raygoza.

Matilde’s parents were, by her description, the funniest people in the world. So funny, in fact, that her mother died laughing at one of her father’s jokes – after which he shot himself.

So she has come north and hired on to clean Lane’s Connecticut house. But what Matilde (pronounced mah-CHILL-gee) really wants to do is write the best joke in the world. So Matilde and Virginia make a quiet deal to make sure Lane’s house is cleaned.

When Lane’s surgeon husband Charles (Tom Deak) leaves her for Ana (Catalina Maynard), an older Argentinian patient on whom he has just performed a mastectomy, Lane’s well-ordered but passionless life (“Even my cuts are superficial,” she notes) spins utterly out of control. Plot twists give her a chance to grow and perhaps change her perspective a bit.

Ruhl’s imagination runs to the loopy, as do many of her characters. But they’re always engaging and even *sound* reasonable ... until you consider what they just said. Ruhl helps us out here, with projected translations and occasional scene titles: “Virginia takes stock of her sister’s dust” or “They fall in love completely.”

This play requires actors who can play the love, magic, craziness and jokes as though that’s what life really is all about, which may lead you to consider whether they’re right. Even if not, you will be enchanted, charmed and amused at their antics.

This is one of the best productions of the year: everything works. Brian Redfern’s set is fabulous (I’m trying to negotiate a move-in), the music is original (most written by sound designer Kevin Anthenill, with Raygoza’s help on the medieval-sounding piece in Latin) and exactly right.

Valerie Henderson’s costumes and Luke Olson’s lighting are excellent as well.

And the actors are uniformly top-notch. Kurner’s hidebound Lane contrasts nicely with Guevara’s quirky and delightful Matilde and Logan’s obsessive (and very funny) Virginia.

Maynard’s Ana and Deak’s Charles are intentionally romantically overdrawn on the page, and so delightfully played by Maynard and Deak that they almost make you want to run out and find your own soul mate.

“The Clean House” has everything. Don’t miss this terrific production.

The details

“The Clean House” plays through October 26, 2014 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad, California.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.