PROVO — Theatre fans should be open variety of experiences and expressions of the art form. So, when I heard BYU was doing a series of staged readings, I was intrigued. Their new Contemporary Voices series this year includes two plays and a musical running through Nov 5. The first in the series of script-in-hand readings is the Pulitzer Prize finalist play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl.
The story of The Clean House centers around 4 women who come into contact when doctor Lena is looking for a maid to clean her house (possibly as a live-in employee). Lena’s sister, Virginia, wants to help with the cleaning because she gets a rise from seeing something go from dirty to clean. The Brazilian woman Lena has hired, Matilde, hates cleaning and dreams of being a comedian, and a woman named Anna comes into the story as Lena’s husband’s new lover. As these women interact they learn about themselves, their dreams and what makes for a great joke.
After the reading, director and festival producer Megan Sanborn Jones told the audience that The Clean House is her all-time favorite play. Given the awards and recognition that The Clean House has received over the years, she is not alone in her appreciation. But, I must respectfully disagree. While, The Clean House is not bad, nothing about it was particularly special or outstanding. The play bills itself as a romantic comedy, but it rarely gets beyond sitcom-level observations of marriage, love, and female relationships. It was amusing, and some of the banter between the women worked, but nothing that felt especially strong or memorable.
That said, I still enjoyed the reading experience and being introduced to a new to me playwright and her work. I do wonder, however, if a play where stretches are in Portuguese with no translation is a great choice for a staged reading? After all, there were no sets or other visual elements of a fully mounted production to add context to those scenes and help the audience understand what the characters are saying.
The cast in the staged reading all did a good job bringing personality while reading the dialogue. I particularly enjoyed Eden Bostrom as Lane. She is a complex and layered character who goes on the biggest growth journey within the piece. Alice Roque is also charming as Matilde. The performances were strong enough that I wish I could see this cast in a full production of the play, and not just a staged reading.
Still, there is something fun about the raw energy of a staged reading, and the Contemporary Voices series at BYU brings that out in their production of The Clean House. These readings are a low-cost way to add variety to Utahns’ theatre-going experiences.