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June 21, 2007


Alison Croggon

The Melbourne production of A Clean House a couple of years ago was excellent (three great comic actresses) and rather disarmed me. But I can see why it might get teeth-grating after a while.

David Cote

Actually, I believe that carefully chosen performers and a director with a dark, perverse streak could elevate the material above its perky preciousness, but in this case the director and cast only exacerbate it. Interestingly, Isaac over at Parabasis seems to think that I'm reacting against the overt emotionalism of the piece. Quite the opposite. As far as I can see, Ruhl has an annoying habit of fetishizing emotional repression and calling attention to her play-world's textuality through facile word-games and trite allusions to Lear, Alice in Wonderland, etc. If anything, I feel that Ruhl is too cool and cerebral. Only I don't find that her characters' onstage cogitation is interesting. Unlike the other writers I've unfavorably compared her to.


I saw A Clean House a couple of summers ago at the Woolly Mammoth. My husband and I both turned to each other after the first act and said "who cares?" Well, I think I said something more like I don't give a shit about angsty wealthy women. We dissed the show through the whole intermission. Finally, the woman next to me got up and changed places with the guy she was with and said something like "I'm not sure what to say to all that." An odd thing I thought, until midway through the second act I realized I had been sitting next to Ruhl.

I did see the show again at Theatre Works in Mountain View, CA. A much better cast and a more imaginative director elevated the script above its pretensions. But I stand by my first reaction. Who cares?

Abe Pogos

I also saw the Melbourne production of A Clean House. What annoyed me about the play was the sense that we were supposed to feel that some meaningful transformations had taken place, but for me there was almost no struggle. Stuff just happened, obstacles easily overcome and none of the victories were earned. So I didn't care.

I think it didn't help that a friend of mine had loaned me a copy of Woyzek which I read a couple of hours earlier. Perhaps that made Ruhl's play seem more trivial than it really is.

Alison Croggon

My apologies, Abe; but then, Woyczek throws most things into the shade... I don't mind fluff, as long as that's not the only thing on the menu, and if I find myself enjoying said fluff, I can't bring myself to deny it. But it's all relative, I guess - I've seen far worse and far more mindlessly cynical minings of the middle-class angst vein than this piece.

Abe Pogos

The fact that I have a friend who happens to be a theatre critic is a dark secret that I'd been hoping to take with me to the grave.

Damn you Croggon!

tired playgoer

I saw Eurydice in previews and really wanted to like it better than The Clean House (very disappointing). But like Coram Boy which was a weak play elevated by vigorous, fantastical direction, Eurydice was a wispy conceit surrounded by the trappings of heightened (though in this case, uninteresting) direction. I don't get Sarah Ruhl. Like Adam Rapp, she is a not particularly interesting playwright who is mysteriously showered with accolades, awards, productions, opportunities and heavy breathing from artistic directors. Any explanation for that?


I must say, Tired Playgoer, that I have higher hopes for Rapp, even though he is a rougher, rangier, undisciplined writer. Ruhl knows her Playwriting 101 structuring and how to garnish her conceits with literary parsley, I just find her plays to be flimsy exercises in style and shallow high concepts. With Rapp I get a sense of a born storyteller and lover of language who is writing from experience and his gut. The plays aren't always successful and can verge on grunge bathos, but I think he challenges himself and his audience. Then again he has been at it for a decade and I still find myself waiting for him to write a great play. Coram Boy was by no means a great play, but a solid platform for a wonderful piece of melodrama and stage effects. I loved Coram Boy as a theatrical event of high style and I let it jerk the tears out of me. One allows oneself to be emotionally manipulated in the theater, but it has to be consensual. I found myself fighting the weird, cool sentimentalism of eurydice.



Just so's you know, I meant to be "wondering aloud" if the emotion had something to do with it, based on your stated preference for two almost-completely-emotion-free writers (Emo and Gibson). Didn't mean to put words in yo' mouth.

David Cote

There I strongly disagree with you. I find that Eno and Gibson contain lots of emotion: self-loathing, fear, anger, confusion, uncertainty, morbidity, longing for connection, disgust with connection, the beauty and horror of intellect and mind, fear of growing up (yes a lot of negatives, I know) - it's just mediated through verbal games and filters. The formal tricks and tics are inseparable from the emotional thru-line. With Ruhl, I find the games bland and the emotions unearned. Take the moment when Eurydice, recovering her memory with her father down in hades, asks about her mother. all he has to say are some generic fairytale things about her playing piano and being at parties. it's deeply sentimental and generic, in other words, a cheap ploy for an emotional response. YES, it's within the context of a person who's lost their memories and so has to reconstruct the past - which is a fascinating concept full of possibilities - but I find that ruhl just uses it as a vehicle for daddy's-little-girl-level nostalgia. the emotional bar, for me, is low.

Robin Rothstein

Wow, I feel so much better having read all these posts. I saw The Clean House at Lincoln Center the same night as you, David. I am relieved we saw the "same play." All I had heard up to that point about this piece was how wonderful and ground-breaking it was. I tried so hard to get into it. I really wanted to love it, but I just didn't get it and I was disappointed in myself for not connecting with it. What was everyone else seeing that I wasn't? What wasn't I getting? Literally. What wasn't I getting from this play? I have seen alternative works where I didn't completely understand every detail, but I still got them. Or rather, they got me. Something connected and I empathized. Like The Internationalist and God's Ear and Thom Pain and Finer Noble Gases at The Rattlestick. (So visceral, I loved that gritty little production and "got it" even if it did also happen to gross me out.) Nothing personal against Ms. Ruhl, I suspect like any playwright she invests her heart and soul in her work and passionately strives to communicate her perspective on this world. I just feel frustrated that her work bounces off me so, rather than infiltrates.


I haven't seen The Clean House, but I was lucky enough to catch the world premiere production of Eurydice at Brown in 2000 (I was an undergraduate there) and found it engaging and moving; I loved the undercurrent of menace and darkness certain elements brought to the show (the "Very Interesting Man"). So I suspect that the difficulties may be with this particular production.

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