April 30 2009 12:00 AM

Acting, direction and tech shine in Peppermint Creek show

Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s production of “The Clean House” is an emotionally cleansing experience. Sarah Ruhl’s script is a rare blend of heartbreak and humor, and Chad Badgero’s direction and the stellar cast offer catharsis without emotionally blackmailing the audience.

The story investigates the nature of relationships, ranging from familial to romantic to friendly. On paper, the intricate plot sounds convoluted: Matilde (Yana Levovna), a Brazilian comedienne who finds cleaning to be a depressing activity, becomes the maid of highly successful couple Charles (Doak Bloss) and Lane (Gini Larson). Lane’s overbored sister Virginia (Jane Shipley Zussman), who masks her feelings of underachievement with obsessive cleanliness, makes a pact with Matilde to clean in her place.

Charles, an oncologist, falls unexpectedly in love with one of his cancer patients, Ana (Sara Blossom). In his desperation to save her life, Charles leaves Ana in the care of the other women, while he sets off for a miracle cure. And through this all, Matilde searches for the funniest joke in the world, something that will give her closure from the deaths of her parents and also provide a release for Ana.

For all of its intricacies, the story moves along at a crisp, clean pace. So engrossing is the story and so compelling are the cast members that at Saturday’s performance, the audience seemed to have a stunned “Already?” moment when the intermission hit.

In his director’s notes, Badgero notes that “laughter is very closely related to crying,” a point which is heartbreakingly illustrated by Larson when Lane gets the news of her husband’s infidelity. A strong, serious physician who channels all of her empathy into her work, Lane doesn’t know how to react to the implausible idea of her husband trading the security of their comfortable, lucrative marriage for an irrational ideal, a soul mate. Oscillating between mania and hysteria, Larson mines the subtleties of both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.

Levovna (a City Pulse contributor) gets to have the most fun in her role, bringing Matilde to life through physical humor and a charming Portuguese accent. The dynamic Matilde is a perfect foil for straight-laced Lane, and the two actresses are well matched in their roles. Blossom provides an earthy vibe to the dignified Ana.

Bloss is solid, but this isn’t the kind of part that lets him stretch as impressively as he has in recent roles. He does get to deliver some of the more absurd moments of the play, as well as the most intimate and tender moment.

Fred Engelgau’s set is appropriately stark, an almost blinding and sterile environment that, early in the play, reflects the sterility of the various relationships. However, as the story moves forward, the stage becomes cluttered, symbolic of the entanglements between the characters. Skip Panek’s costumes are also a terrific reflection of each character. The most relevant of the costuming choices emphasizes the key difference between the two leading women. Lane is wrapped up in starched white uniforms, while Ana sweeps across the stage in bold and flowing fabrics that exude joy.

Badgero’s notes indicate the self-serving reasons he chose this play and how it reflects his recent experiences and feelings about life. However, this is more than Badgero’s house, it’s our home clean home.

‘The Clean House’

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

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