The Clean House and Other Plays

The Clean House and Other Plays by Sarah Ruhl
Theatre Communications Group, New York, 2006

Let me tell you something about the Midwest. The Midwest is hardcore. You grow up there, like I did, you end up either hardcore normal or hardcore weird.

So when I read the recent New Yorker piece about Sarah Ruhl, who falls into the latter category, I actually put down the magazine halfway through the piece to run to the bookstore to buy a collection of her plays -- the last copy on the shelf. I was drawn to the gentle absurdism described in the article -- wackiness to amuse, instruct, make a point. Absurdism you can relate to.

The collection did not disappoint. In The Clean House, others clean house while the maid tries to think of the perfect joke. In Late: A Cowboy song, a man, a woman and a manly woman move at a horse's pace to a few important realizations. In Melancholy Play, which I think is my favorite so far, melancholy is sexy and tears are meant to be saved. I haven't read Eurydice yet -- I may wait until after seeing it produced by ACT Theatre in Seattle later this year.

Ruhl's first intent was to be a poet, and this comes through in her plays as well. There is a musicality about the dialogue, a lilt. The stage directions are like little presents stashed throughout the play, sweet, suggestive: "It would be nice if the actress playing Red could play the guitar." "Virginia has a deep impulse to order the universe." "An intermission, or not. Preferably not."

In the New Yorker piece, Ruhl talks about the importance of lightness, yeah. Her plays are often described as comedies, and there is a comedic element to each one, but they are too earnest to be dismissed as whimsical jokes. When someone turns into an almond, there is a reason.

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