BY TOM LAVIS
It’s not often that a comedy comes along that is difficult to categorize.
Yet award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl has done just that with “The Clean House,” which will be presented by the Pitt-Johnstown theater department in the Studio Theater of Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road in Richland Township.
“It is so many things at once – comedy, tragedy, modern, classic, simple and complex,” Ann Marie Stewart, director and Pitt-Johnstown professor of theater arts, said. “It is absolutely brilliant writing and should not be missed.”
“The Clean House,” which opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, is a startling comedy-drama about life, death, class and the power of jokes.
Matilde, portrayed by freshman Alexa Miller of Uniontown, Fayette County, is a Columbian housekeeper who can’t fake enthusiasm for her domestic duties. Her employers’ houses are as disorderly as their lives.
While Matilde sets out in pursuit of the perfect joke, she ignores household dirt and is swept away by family affairs of the heart.
Throughout the play, which is recommended for mature audiences because of adult situations and language, characters talk about themselves or imagine situations involving the other characters.
The comedy is set in a theoretical Connecticut house.
“Matilde cleans two houses (owned by Lane, played by Taylor Casti of New Germany, and Charles, portrayed by Kyle Stankan of Bedford) and yet refuses to clean either,” said Stewart.
“She just tells jokes, and that makes her indispensable to everyone. The message is that humor, comic relief, compassion, love is all we really want ... and as we struggle through heartbreak, illness, loneliness and isolation, sometimes a good joke, and companionship, is just what we all need to get through the tough times.”
Other cast members are junior Sarah McParland of Brentwood, Allegheny County, as Virginia; and senior Jayme Brooks of Johnstown as Ana.
Stewart calls Ruhl the most important American playwright that has emerged in the past 10 years.
“Her work is compelling, adventurous, compassionate, beautiful, theatrical and poetic,” Stewart said. “It is full of symbolism and color, and the characters are familiar, yet never cliche.”
The play is set in modern times, in a very clean, stark, house. The production, which is cutting-edge, isn’t modern in the sense of being experimental, unaccessible or distant, Stewart said.
“It is a celebration of life and death and forgiveness,” she said. “I am stunned by how real this play is. The people on stage are so familiar, yet they do things that are surprising and unpredictable.
“And the result is absolutely hilarious and delightful,” she said.
Stewart first read the play a few years ago when she was teaching at the University of Notre Dame.
“I closed the book and felt goosebumps all over my body because I had just experienced one of the greatest works of literature I had ever read in my life,” she said.
Stewart vowed that she would share the comedy with as many people as possible.
“That is why I am directing it here in Johnstown,” she said.
Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 24-26 and 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 26.
Tickets are $17 and $15; $12 for students.
For tickets, call 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or visit www.upjarts.com.
Tickets also will be available at the door.
If you go ...
What: ”The Clean House.”
Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, 450 Schoolhouse Road, Richland Township.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Feb. 24-26; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 26.
Tickets: Call 269-7200, (800) 846-2787 or by visiting www.upjarts.com. Also at the door.
Cost: $17 and $15; $12 for students.