House lets us off easy

The Clean House has terrific performances but the play has no edge

THE CLEAN HOUSE by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Alisa Palmer (Canadian Stage). At Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). To March 8. Pwyc-$89. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN

Why is a company called Canadian Stage producing work like The Clean House? An American play has to be monumental to merit a staging here. This play is decent but in no way earth-shattering.

Somebody, probably her dramaturge, should have pushed author Sarah Ruhl a little harder. The Clean House has a terrific set-up – uptight doctor Lane is pissed off because her Brazilian cleaner won’t do her job – but it doesn’t pay off. Ruhl’s too busy demonstrating the power of love.

Credit some decent one-liners and excellent acting by several of T.O.’s best talents for creating an entertaining show nevertheless.

See it if only for the superb performance by Fiona Reid, who is poignant, funny and wholly absorbing as the homeowner’s sister with her own passion for housecleaning.

As Lane, a skilled surgeon with zero life skills, Seana McKenna delivers all the pinched uptightness required. Nicola Carreia-Damude is delicious as the outrageous cleaner who’d rather be a stand-up comic.

I wish Joseph Zeigler could sing. A key musical interlude that opens the second act is wasted, especially as it’s performed with gifted singer Mary Ann McDonald, glowing as the new love in his life.

Alisa Palmer’s direction is sure-footed and precise, and the set by Judith Bowden, lit expertly by Kevin Lamotte, is beautiful, all sleek spaces and clean lines.

But this play could have gone so much deeper. The set-up makes it a potential forum for some trenchant class analysis and cultural commentary, but neither ever materializes.

Instead, Ruhl sticks to obvious types, making the Brazilian Matilda all hot and juicy and giving waspy Lane a big pickle up her bum.

The mostly white and privileged audience at the Bluma Appel should have been squirming instead, The Clean House made us feel way too comfortable.

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