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Clean Living

Two new shows probe the chaos of life through humor

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HELPING HAND In 'The Clean House', Virginia (Tamar Cohn) lends a hand to Matilde (Livia Demarchi). - GREG LE BLANC
  • Greg Le Blanc
  • HELPING HAND In 'The Clean House', Virginia (Tamar Cohn) lends a hand to Matilde (Livia Demarchi).

In two brilliant, unconventional plays, the subjects of death, infidelity, cancer and the violent overthrow of the U.S. government are improbably played for laughs while giving our heads some juicy new thoughts to chew on.

In Sarah Ruhl's 2004 comedy The Clean House, directed with energy and sensitivity by JoAnne Winter, Brazilian comedian-turned-house-cleaner Matilde (Livia Demarchi) confesses that cleaning houses makes her depressed. Unfortunately, her overstressed employer Lane (an excellent Sylvia Burboeck) is a surgeon who likes things clean. Meanwhile, Lane's sister, Virginia (Tamar Cohn, also wonderful), isn't happy unless she's cleaning, so an arrangement is made wherein Virginia cleans Lane's house while Matilde relaxes and tries to think up the perfect joke, which, she says, will be "somewhere between an angel and a fart."

When Lane's husband, Charles (Steve Price), an oncologist, announces that he's fallen in love with Anna (Sumi Narendran, marvelous), the older woman on whom he's just performed a double mastectomy, life takes on a series of turns proving that sometimes things just get messy.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

Jason Wells' North Plan, on the other hand, directed with an eye for farce by Rick Eldridge, finds outrageously broad humor in the midst of a disconcerting not-too-distant future. A shadow government has taken over the White House and declared martial law, and a fugitive government employee, Carlton (Sam Coughlin, excellent) has stolen a secret list of likely "government enemies."

When Carlton winds up in a rural Missouri jail awaiting the arrival of government agents (John Browning, Jared Wright), he tries to enlist the help of his jailers: patient police chief Swenson (John Craven) and bored administrator Shonda (Miranda D. Lawson, superb). When he strikes out there, he has no choice but to get through to his agitated, foul-mouthed fellow prisoner Tanya (Sharia Pierce, a hoot), an unhinged local.

What happens shouldn't be funny, but in this cleverly crafted fable of fermenting revolution, the end of the world miraculously becomes wildly, inspiringly—and a bit frighteningly—hilarious.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

'The Clean House' runs Thu–Sun through June 14 at Ross Valley Players. 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thu at 7:30pm; Fri–Sat at 8pm; 2pm matinees on Sunday. $13–$26. 415.456.9555. 'The North Plan' runs Thu–Sun through June 21 at Main Stage West. 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; 5pm matinees on Sunday. $15–$27. 707.823.0177.

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