Sisters Virginia (Wendy Wearne) and Lane (Kathleen Ramsy) in The Clean House.

Sisters Virginia (Wendy Wearne) and Lane (Kathleen Ramsy) in The Clean House.

The Clean House = a messy state of affairs

Ladysmith Little Theatre takes on our fetishes, phobias and foibles

To really earn the praises of your fans, you have to take chances, and Ladysmith Little Theatre has done it again with its production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl.

This is one of those plays where the humour – as the best, most sophisticated humour usually does – cuts pretty close to the nerve. It teeters on the brink of not being funny, which makes it both hilarious and poignant.

Director Brian March has done a skillful job interpreting the nuances of this play.

It pits the neuroses of middle class North American culture against the wild, carnival streak of Latin culture in the form of a Brazilian housekeeper, Matilde (Larissa Coser), who has been hired by a doctor couple, Lane (Kathleen Ramsay) and her husband Charles (Vic Duffhues) to dust, clean and generally tidy up.

Problem is, Matilde doesn’t like housecleaning; all she’s interested in is developing her comic routine and coming up with the best joke in the world.

Enter Lane’s underachieving sister Virginia (Wendy Wearne), for whom housekeeping is the only escape from the fear and loathing of self awareness, and the cast is almost complete.

All that’s needed to round it out is a glamorous and unavoidably sexy fellow Portuguese-speaker for Charles to fall in love with, and Matilde to bond with by the name of Ana (Barbara Metcalfe) and the house of cards is ready for its inevitable collapse.

The Clean House zeros in on the holier – or perhaps just plain better – than thou Victorian mind-set that still has a hold on the North American psyche. Lane, whose arrogance is disguised as the self-sacrifice of a busy professional life, ultimately comes to the shocking conclusion that what she took for love in her husband’s eyes when they were young up-and-comers was only ‘respect,’ that, in fact, their relationship never lived up to the passion of real love, that it was more a textbook example of success in the absence of passion.

Thursday, Feb. 11, was opening night, and the first few scenes were a bit shaky. But it wasn’t long before the actors got into their stride and the performances become thoroughly convincing.

Larissa Coser played the role of Matilde with panache, capturing the fiery Latin temper in her performance. Wendy Wearne, as the pressurized neurotic Virginia, also puts in a strong performance.

The Clean House is on at Ladysmith Little Theatre until Feb. 28. More information at ladysmiththeatre.com.