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The Minnesota Daily

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Cleaning the dirt from under the rug

A maid searches for the perfect joke instead of cleaning in a play at the Mixed Blood Theater.

College houses are swimming cesspools of dead skin, pubic hair, beer caps and that popcorn from two weeks ago, not shining examples of cleanliness. Whether it’s apathy or lack of time, perhaps the dirt simply speaks to the chaos of life in college.

“The Clean House”

WHEN:7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Nov. 18

WHERE: The Mixed Blood Theater, 1501 Fourth St. S., Minneapolis

TICKETS: Wednesday, $11; Thursday, $20; Friday, $24; Saturday, $28; Sunday, $22; Special student deal: “Evening on the West Bank,” Mixed Blood Theater ticket and a tap beer or house wine at Sgt. Preston’s for $10 with a valid student ID.

Call (612) 338-6131 or visit

Sarah Ruhl explores the relationship between the cleanliness of one’s surroundings and just what that says about the content of their character in the play “The Clean House.” Within this context, she explores life and death, class and gender, and even what heaven might look like.

Cleanliness becomes more than just a clean toilet seat or crumbs on the kitchen floor in the Mixed Blood Theater’s rendition of this three-year-old play by an award-winning playwright.

With a stark white set and clothing to match, Doctor Lane, queen of her domain, frets over her maid’s depression, because she doesn’t clean the house.

From Brazil, the maid Matilde hates to clean and instead spends her days trying to invent the perfect joke. She claims her parents were the funniest people in Brazil, before her mother died laughing from a joke her father had created just for his wife on their anniversary.

“The perfect joke makes you remember your life,” Matilde said. “The perfect joke is somewhere between an angel and a fart.”

Lane’s sister, Virginia, can’t understand why Lane gives the privilege of cleaning her own house to someone else, because to Virginia, cleaning is closer to spirituality than a chore.

“When I’m cleaning my house, it makes me feel clean,” she said to the maid who hates cleaning.

It’s fairly typical that a Brazilian maid would be the one to unknowingly disrupt the white, upper-middle class household that is already in the midst of turmoil, though its inhabitants don’t yet realize it. And although the tension builds too easily – pitting foreigner against native, the wild against the boring – the maid Matilde uses wide-eyed humor to teach Lane and her sister, bringing laughter and color into the house.

Writer Ruhl has created characters out of well-known archetypes that are easily relatable. The play gives glimpses of the past to explain the character’s current emotional state, but more comes through in the nuances of the characters, so that their imagined pasts inform the audience as much as what they say does.

For instance, Virginia takes so much pride in cleaning because she has nothing else to do. She wishes she had an outside career or at least a life outside her spotless house. She speaks of times spent with her husband in Greece during her younger days, where instead of concentrating on writing something profound about the ancient ruins, she was wishing someone would sweep them up.

At times, the acting seems forced, as does some of the humor. Yet at the same time, it has a genuine quality that demands to be watched.

For anyone who feels trapped in the life they’ve chosen, for anyone who hates cleaning, for anyone who is deceived about the true state of their life, this play can speak to these troubles.

In a relatively simplistic storyline, life, death, marriage, love, laughter, the perfect joke, class and cleanliness intermingle in what becomes more than the characters and their actions, but a mirror, examining the dirt hidden under everyone’s rugs.

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