Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sarah Ruhl’s Poetry in Three Dimensions: Adjudication of The Clean House at Theatre Ontario Festival 2015

by Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

Highlights of the detailed adjudication by Ron Cameron-Lewis of Theatre Sarnia’s production of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl.
  • Sarah Ruhl describes theatre as poetry in three dimensions.
  • Set design: Loved the look of the set… we didn’t see a balcony so what a wonderful surprise when we returned for Act Two.
  • Costume choices created a great visual picture: Matilde in black, Lane in white, Virginia in gray, and then Charles and Ana bring colour.
  • Similarly, the revelation when the cupboards opened and we saw all the cleaning products (and the vodka.)
  • The unusual angle of the coffee table (legs pitched at 45-degree balanced by a flat base.)
  • Some lighting areas had problems: U.S.R. of the bar, D.S.R., S.L. on the balcony in Act Two; at a Festival, actors need an hour under the lights to learn where the hot spots are so they can find the adjustments they need to make.
  • “Stunning” musical choices: just the right mood, transition, and the volume was excellent.
  • Similarly the projects were effective, a particular highlight was the “primal moment” between Lane and Virginia.
  • The opening joke is told in Portuguese, but you didn’t need to understand the language because of the actor’s commitment and her vocal inflection, physicality, fun.
  • Each of the opening monologues were simple, with no movement, and driven by the power of voice.
  • Good accent work by Matilde and Ana.
  • The red blotch that appeared on the painting on the set in Act Two was unclear. It read like a crown: what did that mean? The goal was simply to add the colour and show the increasing messiness of their lives. In that case, it needed to be blotchier so it didn’t read as anything.
  • A wonderful example of the changes in vocal pitch that has been a theme this week: Lane’s line “I don’t know what to say except… you’re fired.” Her pitch dropped to a lower tone on the final two words.
  • A general observation to live longer in the final moments, the “buttons” of the scenes. They’re beautiful so let us take them in, don’t rush us out to the next scene.
  • “Magical realism”: The best illustration of what this category of theatre means was how the apples would be dropped from Ana’s balcony, and somehow land in Lane’s living room.
  • Lane’s wig hid her eyes. She would have benefited from something that pulled back the hair.
  • Strong character statements were made through physicality.
  • The parents dirty jokes was a fun sight gag, but it ended on a moment of unexpected poignancy. Many of the scenes had that impact.
  • Virginia and Matilde: There was great evolution in their relationship throughout the play.
  • Lane and Virginia: Wonderful use of pace in their vocal rhythms to convey their long shared history together as sisters.
  • Blocking had Lane was in profile for a long-time; we needed to see her full face earlier in the play.
  • Matilde’s floor work while she was stretching was excellent. The floor is the most overlooked part of the stage and thought should be given of how to use it more generously. In this case, it spoke of her character and her Brazilian heritage.
  • Virginia’s inner monologue while folding and caressing Charles’ underwear was quite clear.
  • Excellent comic timing on Virginia and Matilde changing places at the ironing board (and the moment of discovery that they needed to change places.)
  • Terrific split-second timing from Lane: “I have poise” as she unwittingly spills her drink.
  • Fun moment when Matilde tilted the picture, but it wasn’t straightened properly. Virginia needed to fixed that, but she did not notice it.
  • A well-executed emotional roller-coaster ride for all the characters when Charles leaves Lane.
  • More magical realism: Charles and Ana dancing, and Matilde asking Lane: “Who are they?” / “Just my imagination.”
  • Lane’s transition from laughter to tears was well-executed: we believed it.
  • Ana’s accent work was excellent, but it needed to be stronger from her first line as we didn’t hear the accent right away. If the text doesn’t provide the words you need, exaggerate the words that do carry the accent.
  • Charles and Ana’s transition from clinical doctor/patient relationship to falling in love (with musical and lighting accompaniment) demonstrated visual comedy galore
  • Clarity in Ana and Matilde’s exchange in Portuguese, and we could even hear the difference in their accents.
  • Superb holding of the moment by Lane before delivering the line “You’re not Jewish.”
  • Ana’s hair and the ringlets read so well for her character.
  • Charles was clearly in love with Ana, sitting as close to her as possible on the arm of a chair.
  • Virginia referred to her and Matilde as sisters, and then tying her hair.  This was one of those unexpected discoveries beyond the script.
  • Virginia almost touching Charles’ knee, showed how much she is suffering.
  • Wonderful shift in tone when everyone went to pick apples and the sisters were left alone and how they related to each other.
  • Wonderful visual impact when the balcony doors opened and all this colour appeared.
  • Imaginative solution to the need for throwing “yellow spices” – threw yellow confetti.
  • The mind-reading scene between Charles and Ana could have benefitted from more “Houdini” behavior by Charles, more theatricality, and separating the lines and an action. The funnier this scene is, the sadder this scene is.
  • Charles stripping to his underwear: courageous by the actor.
  • The moment when Lane discovers Charles’ sweater was lost by the audience in the split focus between the two scenes. The balcony scene drew our attention because it had colour and action.
  • Good use of non-verbal conflict over the vacuum.
  • Music throughout Ana’s illness was quite beautiful.
  • Virginia’s breakdown and trashing the set was excellent. When she threw the flowers, she changed her rhythm and intention. There is an exercise Ron uses: “25 ways to use a chair” to make those kinds of discoveries of variety. She found 25 ways to throw flowers.
  • Lane and Ana on the balcony: the blocking needed tweaking as this is Lane’s scene, and she was U.S.L. By the end of the scene, she was D.S.R. and the blocking fell into place. Needed it that way from the top.
  • The telephone call between Lane and Virginia was split with a scene on the balcony.  This was well-executed because the balcony scene moved slowly.  If there must be unimportant movement in a scene, do it at half-speed.
  • The sequence where they were eating ice cream on the couch was a charming sequence.
  • Lane watching Ana like a guard dog: this was an example of a moment that could have been sustained for 10 to 15 seconds before ending the scene.
  • It’s Victoria Day weekend, and fireworks were audible outside the theatre.  Good job by the company in not being distracted.
  • The final joke, Ana’s death and Lane holding the wash basin was a wonderful frozen moment of time.
  • The only prop that didn’t work was the yew tree that Charles brought from Alaska: everything in the story has become so extreme that the tree needed to be 20x larger. It didn’t need to come onto the stage, it could have been too big to fit through the door. The yew tree we saw was a safe tree.
  • Technical challenges were presented by the enormous jars of olives: the juices, the spills, the smell, the mould.
  • Magical realism did confuse some audience members. Some audiences fought the play. They weren’t sure how to feel about it. Some loved it, but they had no idea what it was. It’s important that the company accept the conventions of the play—which they did.
  • Thank you to Theatre Sarnia for bringin Sarah Ruhl to Festival.
(This is the final version of this post, edited post-Festival.)

No comments:

Post a Comment