I'm probably not the best person to trust on the subject of theater: I
watch movies for a living, and the Globe already has a critic who's more than up to the task of parsing, analyzing, condemning, appreciating. Plus, I have to admit I'm fairly sour on the Boston area theater scene - 20 years in New York followed by two subscription seasons at the Huntington that just about put me into a coma will do that.
What Ruhl is about in "The Clean House" is surprising us - crossing the audience's wires and leading us from what we know to a consideration of everything we don't. The plot is nominally a marital comedy, but it keeps getting sidetracked into a philosophy of laughter (really; the cleaning lady wants to discover the perfect joke), and Carroll's dreamy clean freak goes from the play's goat to its Zen master. The actors ride these rollercoaster twists with the grace that comes from giving oneself up to fate (or to the whims of a
playwright), and when in one scene the doctor finds herself laughing and sobbing simultaneously, "Clean House" reaches the limits of language itself.
The movies simply don't play that. Perhaps because of their illusion of greater realism, films tend to conservatism when it comes to tonal monkeying about, and they're always less about language than image - about what is shown, rather than what is said. What begins as a heist movie ends as a heist movie; a drama is a drama is a drama. To imagine the cinematic equivalent of Ruhl's gift would be to confront a film that allows itself to grow organically, so that what begins as an ordinary shrub keeps flowering and sending off different shoots until it looks like a Dr. Seuss tree, with a swing on it for the audience to sit in.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Ty Burr thinks Ruhl Has Much to Teach the Movies
Ty Burr, our local film critic at the Globe sees hope for theatre and film in The Clean House: