Jokes On You

Photo by Henry Di Rocco/SCRThe New York Times callsThe Clean House, which just opened at South Coast Repertory, "a fresh, funny new play by a talented young playwright, Sarah Ruhl. . . . [It] breathes a little life into the epithet."

Well, we sure can think up some colorful ones to hurl at this steamy loaf of theatrical turd. As for Ruhl, her script is about as fresh as the plot line of your average daytime soap opera—terrain she'd probably be better off dwelling in.

It's like this: live-in Brazilian maid Matilde (Adriana Sevan) stops cleaning for her woman-doctor boss Lane (Mary Beth Fisher) because she's depressed and would rather spend all day telling jokes in her native Portuguese. Lane needs her life to be in order, but it hasn't been since her doctor hubby Charles (Timothy Landfield) ran off with one of his patients, Ana (Ivonne Coll). Lane's sister Virginia (Mary Lou Rosato), who loooovesto clean because it's all she's done with her sad little life, wanders in and out a bunch of times, too.

That's really all you need to know because Ruhl has packed her script with pointless fantasy sequences, dance routines and unbelievably unbelievable plot lines that feel like filler for the moments when she was too lazy to spend time working on small, insignificant details—y'know, like the story. The whole thing seems less a real play than a bunch of random ideas floating around inside the theater, left for the audience to pluck out and piece together.

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In the second half, though, things really get stupid. Only then do we finally meet Ana—Charles' fuck buddy, remember—who it turns out has cancer, but then the cancer goes away, but then the cancer comes back again, which sets things up for a looong drawn-out death scene probably swiped from some horrible disease-o'-the-week TV movie, complete with—and we wish we were kidding here—turgid, treacly piano notes!

After awhile, we wished for all of these unlikable characters to die, but we instead busied ourselves with the script's surely unintended dick jokes ("Will you hold my tree?" Heh, heh, heh!) and gagging on the overwrought, emotional chain choking, all to arrive at a "message" about how life isn't always neat and tidy, which everyone learns when they're two years old. Oh, the audience laughed, but it was the sort of laughter people make when they're trying to numb the pain of having shelled out $56 a pop for a play that's stupefyingly awful.

But the most ridiculous moment in The Clean House comes when Lane makes a house call to treat cancer-addled Ana—the bitch who Charles abandoned Lane for.That's something you'd only see on the Hallmark Channel in a movie produced by Mormons. Then we thought maybe Lane's selfless act would be what Jesus would do. And then we thought some more and realized, no, even Jesus would think The Clean House is dreadful.

THE CLEAN HOUSE AT SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-5555; WWW.SCR.ORG. TUES.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2:30 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2:30 & 7:30 P.M. THROUGH FEB. 27. $19-$56.

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