Playwright Sarah Ruhl wields metaphor like a magic wand. She weaves and layers them into her plays and the fabric of her characters to infuse them with a heightened sense of magical realism.
Take Ruhl’s “The Clean House,” a comedy that will open at Boise Contemporary Theater on Friday, April 21. The world of the play is not exactly grounded in our reality. It moves between naturalism and fantasy, and comes with two interesting notes from Ruhl: It is set in “a metaphysical Connecticut. Or a house that is not far from the city and not far from the sea. ... Everyone in this play should be able to tell a really good joke.”
“She (Ruhl) is in love with how theater is a metaphor for life,” says director Drew Barr, who also is a resident director at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. This is his sixth time working with BCT.
All this imagery and symbolism make the play tricky — and fun — to work on, he says.
“There are stage directions like, ‘It begins snowing in living room,’ ” he says. “So do you make it literally snow, or is it something else? As a writer, I think she is interested in and celebrates the infinite possibilities of what imagination can create in the making of theater.”
Ruhl leaves it to each production team to figure out which extreme to employ. And with Barr at the helm, it opens the door for swings between both extremes that will eventually settle into something tangible.
“In the midst of all this metaphor, there’s a real humanity and emotion at the core of the text,” Barr says. “The characters seem to be one thing, but then have to deal with the part of themselves that is the total opposite.”
The play centers on Lane (Tracy Sunderland), a successful doctor, and her husband, Charles (Arthur Glen Hughes), a surgeon. They live their seemingly well-ordered lives in a white house that is white-on-white inside and out.
It’s hard enough to keep clean, but their Brazilian maid Matilde (Paula Rebelo) hates to clean, and when she goes into a depression after her parents’ deaths, the clutter piles up.
That’s when Lane’s sister Virginia (Denise Simone), a clean freak who tidies up to keep her inner demons under control, volunteers to clean her sister’s house on the sly. Lane discovers the deception just as she learns that Charles has fallen in love with one of his patients (Olivia Negrón). That’s when the play takes a turn toward chaos.
‘The Clean House’
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, April 19-20 (previews) and April 21 (opening) through Saturday, May 6; and 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29 and May 6, 854 Fulton St. $34 Fridays and Saturdays, $25 Wednesdays to Thursdays, $20 for matinees, $18 preview (April 20), $16 students for any show. 331-9224, Ext. 205; BCTheater.org. Pay-what-you-want preview is April 19.
▪ The Langroise Trio — Geoffrey Trabichoff (violin), David Johnson (viola) and Samuel Smith (cello) — will tackle a program of Beethoven and Franz Danzi with guest artist Janelle Oberbillig on bassoon for its spring concert.
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, 516 S. 9th St., Boise ($10 general, $5 students); and 7:30 p.m. at Langroise Recital Hall, College of Idaho, 2112 Cleveland Blvd., Caldwell. Free.