Lee Barker’s set design for LUTD’s “The Clean House.”

Cleanliness is next to godliness, or so the saying goes. But what if the cleanliness is just a façade for the mess and chaos of our lives?

“The Clean House,” Lamar University department of theatre and dance’s season-opening production, is a thoughtful and funny delight, exactly what one would expect of a script by Sarah Ruhl, one of the best contemporary playwrights.

The story takes place in the home of Lane (Kaylee Lambert), a successful doctor, who carries herself with poise and confidence. Her house is well appointed but devoid of personality. Lee Barker infuses the set design with a blue light which is both “cool” and “cold.”

The show opens with Portuguese maid Matilde (Brianna Cobos), telling us a joke in Portuguese. Despite most of the audience, presumably, not speaking the language, Matilde’s actions alert us the bawdy content — some things are universal.

Matilde is not happy. She does not like cleaning, which is an impediment to job satisfaction if one is a maid. Matilde’s dream is to be a comedian — humor is in the family’s genes. Fortunately, help is at hand, as Lane’s sister, Virginia (Juliana McManus) loves to clean, so the pair help each other out.

The three actors do a good job establishing the different characters. When Lane says she didn’t become a doctor just to clean her own house, the audience laughs, because she may be cold, but she is honest. Cobos really captures Matilde’s passion and earthiness, and we see her seeking to make sense of her place in the world, all the while seeking the perfect joke.

McManus is a treat. She is hilarious, as if she is channeling vintage Diane Keaton. Yet there is a marvelous pathos that undercuts her dottiness. She is searching for meaning in the shadow of her sister’s success.

When it becomes evident that Lane’s oncologist husband Charles (Kalan Bonnette) is having an affair (with a patient, no less), things begin to shift. When he insists on bringing Ana (Daisy Obregon) to meet Lane, emotions are thrown into turmoil, and Matilde is thrust into the middle.

This is the part of the review where one should talk about Ana, but to do so would risk spoiling things for the audience. Just know that Obregon, who with Bonnette plays the memory of Matilde’s parents in Act 1 (the funniest people in the village), really steps up with a strong central performance in Act 2 that gives the other characters a chance to reevaluate their lives.

Bonnette, in a role that is clearly the supporting player to the women, nonetheless finds the most out of his character, with some hilarious sight gags. He is especially interesting when he “performs” a surgery. Despite the adultery, Charles is no villain.

This play is an interesting choice for a college production, as the characters are all supposed to be in their 50s or 60s. Director Alan Brinks has wisely steered his actors away from “playing old.” They are not caricatures. Instead, the actors have clearly sought to understand that age is just a number, and it is life experience that creates character.

By the end of the play, the house is most definitely not clean, but the souls are a little less messy. And that’s no joke.

Showtimes for “The Clean House” are 7:30 p.m., Oct. 7 and 8, and 2 p.m., Oct. 9. General admission tickets are $15, $10 for seniors, and $7 for students with LU ID.

(Note: Opening night was a sellout, even with extra seats added, so get your tickets early).

For tickets, visit lamar.edu/lutdtix.

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