The Clean House
Deep Dish Theater
Through May 24

Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House opens with a maid telling a lengthy joke in Portuguese that isn’t translated for the audience. Thus begins a deftly written, impish play that delights in its own playfulness. Deep Dish’s production, while boasting successes of its own, doesn’t, unfortunately, fully exploit the script’s promise.

In this play, master-servant relationships, feminist bonding and issues of class take center stage. We learn that Matilde, the maid, couldn’t care less about cleanliness; comedy is her true aspiration. Lane, her physician employer, diagnoses depression in Matilde and sends her to a shrink. Then, Lane is abandoned by her husband, Charles, in favor of a woman named Ana. In the meantime, Virginia, an obsessive clean freak, covets Matilde’s job, which she is happy to relinquish.

As the doctor and the maid, respectively, Carole Marcotte and Ashlee Quinones are the production’s strongest assets. Quinones is always direct and on point, and Marcotte wins over the audience with her dry delivery. Georgia Martin, as the whimsical, closet-depressive Virginia, also bolsters the show with her airy line readings.

Still, this Tony Lea-directed production has shortcomings: The actors often lack believability and seriousnessat times they seem to browbeat the audience with the play’s supposed funninessas when Donnie Bledsoe’s Charles, faced with the mortality of a loved one, abandons the intensity of the moment, failing to communicate the scene’s trauma. The fact that the play is a comedy is no reason to abandon authentic representations of human nature. Fortunately, Bledsoe is better in a tender scene with Delia Rose Pantaleon’s Ana.

Lea’s direction deserves praise on several points, namely his success at conveying information nonverbally. For instance, when Lane needs help the most, the two women who have offered it to her (and will eventually comprise her support system) are distinguished from the other characters when they drink from their beverages in unison with Lane during an awkward conversation. Scott Marlow’s lighting design achieves the same effect on occasionflashing to Lane’s activities at the pivotal moment when Matilde discovers the perfect joke.

Even if there are facets of the production that could use a little 409, Ruhl’s wonderful scriptand Deep Dish’s mostly sturdy production of itare worth seeing. Megan Stein

@ liberty
both hands theatre company
At Liberty Warehouse
Through May 10

The premise has a Twilight Zone feel to itwith more than a touch of Ray Bradbury in the mix. Five strangers from across the country respond to an officialif cryptically wordedsummons to meet at a storage facility on a dingy side street in a medium-sized Southern city.

If it seems the kind of space that’s big enough to store the past, that’s because, in the world of this story, it is. Particularly if your name happens to be Avery Liberty, as we quickly find is the case with all five of the people assembled here. In this world, the moments of their lives haven’t been housed in some subset of the hippocampus; apparently, they’ve been kept off-site instead. The problem? The firm that the management subcontracted with to tidy things up a bit has misplaced the records matching the proper person with their collection of memories. The untenable result: people dying, their lives flashing before their eyesand it’s not even their own lives.

Tamara Kissane and director Cheryl Chamblee’s script features at least some of the intricately woven spoken-word counterpoint we’ve admired in earlier works. Unfortunately, despite the considerable ambience of their performance space, the Liberty Warehouse in downtown Durham, its barn-like acoustics too frequently play havoc with the pair’s most delicate weavings of words.

The new work extends the overtly therapeutic bent of their last several works, but Kissane and Chamblee do try to diversify the socioeconomic strata of their subjects. One (a delightful Laurie Wolf) is a senior nurse; another (Beth Popelka) is a tattoo artist; a third (a goofy-voiced Lance Waycaster) is a butcher. But in the end, all five are still Americans, most still within shouting range of middle class, and their range of experiences seems pretty narrowcontoured, perhaps, to reflect the young audience viewing @ liberty.

No doubt it is inappropriate to hate a single hospital because it doesn’t begin to cover an entire world. Granted, if you dig deep enough, most of us are in need of some sort of healing. But aren’t there others more in need of intervention than those depicted here? And this is @ liberty‘s greatest drawback, that it seems to consider those already, well, at liberty, and no one else. Byron Woods