The Women of The Clean House

By on 29 March, 2013 in Art, Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“There are things-big invisible things-that come unannounced-they walk in, and we have to give way.” –  Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House

Sarah Ruhl’s play, which is in rehearsal at the Playhouse and opens April 11is a funny, original, and multi-textured piece. One of its many strengths are the strong women who inhabit the story. I would venture to say, I haven’t come across many women characters in the theater that are as potent and funny and moving all at the same time. The women of The Clean House had a chance to share some of their thoughts about their roles in this exciting play.

Greg Thornton: What attracted you to The Clean House in the first place?

Maureen Costello: First, just the chance to do some theater for the first time in nearly four years! But once I read the play I was hooked by the language and the way Sarah Ruhl tells a very painful story in such a funny way. Laughing and crying is a great combination.

Barbara DeMichels: I Googled “The Clean House” before my audition and was fascinated by the various reviews and I viewed clips I found on the Internet. I had not heard of the play until then. At first, I was very attracted to Virginia, mainly because I, too, have a fetish for cleanliness, although not as manic. However, once I read the script, I was mesmerized by Sarah Ruhl’s incisive wit and piercing sensitivity to all her characters. I knew that I wanted to be a part of the production.

Angela Dickson: I am astounded at Ms. Ruhl’s ability to capture the heart, the humor and the theatricality of every moment with such simplicity and complexity. The characters are trying so hard to live life to the fullest, the “cleanest”, each with their own distinct understanding of what exactly that should be.

Tara Fenn: My curiosity piqued when I heard the story line was about a Brazilian woman who happens to be a maid (in America), but never cleans. I wanted to know how this woman would be able to pull off such an intricate hat trick without the other characters seeing her secret.

Greg Thornton: Each of these women has a very distinct story to tell. What is it that brings them together?

Maureen Costello: They’re all on a journey – whether they want to be or not – that compels them to look at the life choices they’ve made. They’re brought together by a kind of fateful, and perhaps unlikely, turn of events, but those events help them discover something essential about themselves. That’s the complicated answer; a simpler one is that they come together to clean their souls.

Barbara DeMichels: From the perspective of Ana, I see Charles as the catalyst for bringing all four women together. However, it is Ana’s intrusion into the lives of Lane, Virginia, and Matilde that forces all four women to view their lives from different perspectives, and, perhaps, even connected by mysterious forces. A bond is eventually formed that will change their lives forever.

Angela Dickson: It’s the mess. The mess each of them has made of their own lives and the mess cancer has made of Ana’s life.

Tara Fenn: I believe the beauty of these women’s stories is in part the writing and the rest is in the imagination! They traveled different paths in life and had different aspirations as well. The common thread, which is true for most people, is the need for love and companionship. They find this acceptance and love exactly where they least expect it … in each other!

Greg Thornton: Sarah Ruhl’s play contains amazing language and takes extraordinary leaps of imagination. How do these elements inform your approach to your character?

Maureen Costello: My character is very aware of how peculiar this world is into which she’s suddenly been thrust, and is constantly surprised by the language, events and decisions she makes. It would be so easy to just play her as in a constant state of shock and disbelief, but she’s adjusting constantly and trying to maintain control while also giving in to this new world around her. My constant question is, “how is Lane processing this?”

Barbara DeMichels: Sarah Ruhl clearly defines each character through descriptive language, but leaves room for each actor to fill in the spaces that give depth to each portrayal. Ruhl has given Ana an allure that excites and provokes the imagination. It is clear that she has an aura of mystery and magic surrounding her. However, it is Ana’s directness that greatly appeals to me: her ability to touch others with her unique understanding of her reality and truth, no matter the situation. Although my approach to her character is evolving, my intent is to revel in her enigmatic personality with the hope that the audience will fall in love her.

Angela Dickson: Virginia is so lonely and unfulfilled. She feels she has wasted her life. I know I can certainly relate to feeling that I haven’t done everything I could to live every minute. I guess the question Virginia asks herself is, “What makes our lives count?” and she sets out to change her answer.

Tara Fenn: I have enjoyed learning some of the nuances of Brazilian culture and language. I want my character to be as close to authentic as possible, but still maintain her flair for the whimsical. She doesn’t take things too seriously, so the world of imagination allows me to keep her on the lighter side of life. There are a lot of serious situations and experiences, so I see my character as the comic relief!

Greg Thornton: The play has such a mix of comedy and drama, as all great stories have. All of the characters are textured beautifully with that kind of mix. Can you talk a little about that?

Maureen Costello: Comedy makes life easier to bear – laughter refocuses the soul and, in the words of the play, reminds us that “our problems are small and the world is big.”

Barbara DeMichels: Theater imitates life. Sarah Ruhl has combined the elements of comedy and drama and shaped them into a delicious portrayal of life. The seriousness of Lane, the neurotic vision of Virginia, the wonderment of Charles, the magical charisma of Ana, and the fanciful nature of Matilde are beautifully combined in a way that informs the reader/audience of the many variables of human nature. These portrayals help us to see ourselves in a more objective light, hopefully giving us deeper insights and reasons for self-examination. Ruhl’s play is a therapy session that should provoke us to cry and laugh at ourselves a lot. She certainly presents a vision of life that captures its wonderment, whether it is enveloped in pain or joy.

Angela Dickson: It’s so wonderful to watch the physical world and emotional world collide. Lane and Virginia want compassion and want to share their compassion but something from their upbringing has prevented them from doing this. Now, in this moment of crisis, they begin to open up to each other, to share their feelings and show that love is not clean and superficial, it’s messy, and we watch them learn to become sisters, real sisters.

Tara Fenn: I have enjoyed getting to know each of the characters in the play. I can personally identify with some aspect of each one of them. Virginia is very passionate, Lane is dedicated to her profession, and Ana believes in true love. Matilde possesses all of these attributes. Even though they each have strong feelings on different ends of the spectrum, they somehow overlap at different points in the play. I love the complexity of the writing in that way. Peeling back all the layers keeps your interest all the way to the end of the play. It actually leaves you wanting to know more, because you just know there’s much more to these women.

Greg Thornton: Sarah Ruhl, who is becoming one of the great voices in the American theater, writes terrific roles for women. Is there any particular aspect of your character that stands out or might appeal to you or perhaps, challenges you in a way you hadn’t considered?

Maureen Costello: My character, Lane, is by far the most opaque of the women. She’s never introduced her mind to her heart, and she’s detached from her own emotional life. It would be so easy to play her with only one note: sarcastic, sharp, angry. The challenge is to find the chinks in Lane’s armor and allow her to be soft, compassionate and forgiving.

Barbara DeMichels: The aspects that intrigue me the most are Ana’s passion and deep commitment to her chosen life. Her integrity toward her life style and her acceptance of the metaphysical forces to which she completely surrenders are things about which I feel deeply. I love that her life is so much more than we can explain or imagine; and, I feel sympathetic toward these facets of her life. The challenge is in authentically portraying Ana’s Argentinean background and dialect, so that her true personality is well represented and appreciated. She has a delicious flavor and charisma to her whole persona, which directs the arc of the play and eventually infuses each character with emotion and feeling previously unrevealed/suppressed. Embracing Ana’s beautiful spirit and metaphysical approach to life has become a labor of love.

Angela Dickson: For me, there has been a lot of joy and pain in meeting these women. They are so carefully crafted and their voices ring so true from her ability to make us laugh through the pain. And for Virginia, it comes down to making the most out of the life you have left, wanting to feel useful, to have been a worthy part of this existence enough to be counted as good, or loving, or smart. She wants her life to mean something. No one wants to die alone, not even Ana. This basic human need, Ms. Ruhl has captured through joke telling and house cleaning. Brilliant!

Tara Fenn: Matilde is quite interesting to me. I am impressed by how much of her character is left up to the imagination. She has depth, yet also knows how not to take life too seriously. Those are traits that I would like to emulate in my own life. She doesn’t seem to get caught up in the way of life with which she is surrounded. Instead, she is grounded in her beliefs and helps those around her to find solace in her way of life. It’s very comforting for me to play a character like Matilde.



  • The Clean House, April 11-21 Thursday- Saturday 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • The Joe Thomas, Jr. Third Tuesday Guitar Pull, April 16 at 7 p.m.
  • Montgomery Theater Week April 18-21
  • Auditions for The Last Five Years, April 21 & 22 at 7 p.m.
  • Anddrocles and the Lion, May 3-5; Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 10 a.m. & 2 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets and further information:









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