May 5 2009 12:00 AM

Peppermint Creek to explore mortality with honest humor


There’s more to playwright Sarah Ruhl’s “Clean House” than Windex and Pine-Sol.

Dynamic characters and an element of absurdity found only in the truth make this show “a mature and complex comedy,” said Chad Badgero, artistic director of Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.

It’s no coincidence Badgero chose to bring this “dramedy” to Lansing now, as the play hits especially close to his home. “Im in a place in my life where Im still young, but Im also old. I get that sense of youth, but I can also understand that sense of mortality and relationships.”

That sense of mortality forced its way into Badgero’s life when his grandfather died from lung cancer last fall. “The Clean House,” which follows a breast cancer patient’s journey and the different relationships she forms as a result, seemed like a good way to express certain feelings, Badgero said. “Im a relatively optimistic and upbeat person, and the tone of my shows tend to be the opposite of that. I work my frustrations out on stage.”

Badgero said he doesn’t tend to take on comedies, because in addition to his own personal preferences, they are harder to direct. Consequently, “The Clean House” is the most humorous show he has directed in a long time. “It’s not just a straight-up comedy,” he said. “Its a comedy in some parts and a drama in some parts. The playwright has blurred all these lines of reality. The play is very honest to life, because even when things are very sad, theres humor.

“Its so honest its funny,” he said. “Obviously, your husband inviting you to go apple picking with him and the woman he left you for is awkward. I love the play, because instead of politely turning down the invitation, she says, ‘Are you serious?’”

That “she” is Lane (played by Gini Larson), the straight-laced wife whose need for order is the catalyst for the demise of her marriage to Charles, played by Doak Bloss. The last time Larson and Bloss played opposite each other in a crumbling relationship (Peppermint Creek’s “The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?”), they each took home top honors at the 2007 Pulsar awards. “They have chemistry, and theyre so comfortable together,” Badgero said. “They have a shorthand between them, and it makes it easy to direct.”


It could have been a good marketing campaign in today’s economy, offering two shows for the price of one. But director Ann Folino White didn’t put one-act plays “Far Away” and “This is a Chair” back-toback to give audiences more bang for their buck. Rather, it was because each Caryl Churchill “masterpiece” is on the short side and conveys a deep meaning for the assistant professor of acting at Michigan State University.

“I selected these plays, because I believe strongly in their messages,” I like [‘Far Away’] so much because it is so absurd. Its so absurd its funny, but its not a comedy.”

White said she originally had her heart set on directing “Far Away,” because of the play’s ability to get viewers thinking critically about their lives. But the 40-minute play needed a companion that could bring just as much meaning to the stage. White found that meaning in the 20-minute “This is a Chair.”

“How do you manage all the things in daily life alongside personal and global heartbreaks,” she asked? “We carry on with our everyday life beside real world issues.”

Those issues can include being late for a date and trying to get a child to eat, as well as ethnic conflict and underdeveloped economies. “It’s straightforward, bizarre and confusing,” White said.

April 28-May 3. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. RCAH Auditorium, Snyder-Phillips Hall, MSU. $8. (517) 355-6690. www.theatre.msu.edu.

‘The Clean House’

April 23-May 2 8 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday $10/$15 Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.,
Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing (517) 927-3016 www.peppermintcreek.org