Rep offers humorous look at love, fate


Is this a joke?

Why would a doctor leave his beautiful wife for a 60-year-old woman he just met? Because she is his bashert — his soul mate.


You’re not laughing? That is because it is no joke but the central pivot point of a wildly comic yet touching play The Clean House, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s latest offering in its Studio Theatre series.

A bashert is a Yiddish term meaning fate or destiny but often meant as one’s soul mate. According to the Talmud, a match is made in heaven for every baby boy months before he is even born.

The Clean House brings together a Brazilian maid who loves jokes but hates housecleaning, two competitive but very different sisters, an aging but fiery red-haired Jewish woman and a doctor who falls for her, all in an unlikely tale of fate, humor, love and death that is both hilarious and inspiring.

Funny, crazy and charming all describe the first act of this play. Matilde (Roni Geva) is a young Brazilian woman hired to clean the suburban Connecticut home of Lane (Andrea Cirie) and her husband Charles (John Rensenhouse), two successful, busy doctors.

The problem is that Matilde is not really too keen on cleaning and is far more interested in thinking up jokes. Both her parents were great comedians but now that they are dead, it falls to her to come up with the funniest joke in the world.

Lane’s sister Virginia (Carol Schultz), on the other hand, loves to clean house, and is looking for a way to fill her otherwise empty afternoons. A deal is made and no need for haughty Lane to know.

The second half of the play upsets this neat little applecart with the introduction of an unlikely other woman. Charles announces he has fallen in love with one of his breast surgery patients, Ana (June Gable), a fiery, 60-year- old Brazilian Jewish beauty with long red hair, a joy for life and a deep well of wisdom. While everyone’s neat orderly house is turned upside down, the story plays out in unexpected ways, both funny and touching.

Sarah Ruhl’s modern, surprisingly deep comedy has garnered critical raves and a 2004 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, plus being a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The play is skillfully directed by Susan Gregg, who keeps the comedy pace fast and crazy but still gives the audience time to savor its poignancies and underlying wisdom.

The play is staged on a spare two-level structure that serves well as a variety of locations.

The cast members all deliver in fine form. Lively, likeable Matilde is irresistible in Roni Geva’s hands.

We can’t help laughing along, even if she does tell her jokes in her native Portuguese.

June Gable’s free-spirited, talkative Ana charms everyone, on stage and off, with her open embrace of life and all it offers. Andrea Cirie does a fine job with Lane, handling the difficult task of taking her from a stiff snob to softer human being, without striking any false notes. Carol Schultz finds the comic gold in Virginia and she and Cirie explore sister issues with humor and truth. John Rensenhouse captures Charles’ innocent delight in his love for Ana, walking a fine line with the character in keeping the audience’s sympathy.

Overall, The Clean House is a delight, well worth a visit.

The play explores issues about fate and love, and humor in the human condition and about the fragility of life. It sounds like heavy stuff for a comedy but the play’s almost surreal nature is the key to making it all work. Love and death have met on stage before but not many plays can pull off asking you to consider whether laughter is the best medicine or if you could die laughing.

“The Clean House” runs until Nov. 11 in the lower level Emerson Studio of the Loretto Hilton theater on the Webster University campus in Webster Groves.