'Clean house' shows life is more than a dirty joke

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Director Doug Joiner is known for bringing dark and often violent fare to the stage at Le Chat Noir.

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Nicole Swanson plays Matilde in a production of "The Clean House" at Le Chat Noir in Augusta.  Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Nicole Swanson plays Matilde in a production of "The Clean House" at Le Chat Noir in Augusta.

The Clean House , his current production, does feature odd incidents of mortality, but he insists that House is feather-light -- by his standards.

"This is as close to romantic comedy as I am ever going to get," he said.

The play revolves around Matilde, a Brazilian housekeeper with comedic aspirations. Motivated by the perfect joke that killed her mother and, tangentially, her father, she makes finding a gag that powerful her life's work.

While she quests, she observes the human comedy of a household wracked by love, loss, infidelity and aspiration. As the play progresses, she discovers that comedy isn't found in a single punch line, but rather the living of life.

Although far less extreme than many of his productions, Joiner said, The Clean House shares a lot with those plays. He said he was attracted thematically to House , just as he was to plays such as The Goat .

"In fact, it shares a lot with the other stuff I do," he said. "The thing I look for in everything I do is stories about redemption of some kind."

Nicole Swanson plays Matilde, the ad hoc Greek chorus of the piece. She said her character, who opens the play with a dirty joke told in Portuguese, is the perfect observer because she has a foreign perspective, a cultural innocence.

"She is that voice that we all have," she said. "That voice that tells us to deal with what we have in life."

Swanson said that although learning to present jokes in another language was challenging, the real trick is making the transition from Act I, which is relatively standard storytelling, to Act II.

"That's when things get pretty strange and surreal," she said. "But the writing is so good that the audience won't have any trouble keeping up."

Though the play deals with complex issues, it manages to do so in a streamlined way.

"Yes, it is a very simple play," Joiner said. "But it's a very simple play compellingly written about the most compelling of subjects -- sex and love and death."

ONSTAGE

WHAT: The Clean House, presented by Le Chat Noir

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; Feb. 19-20 and 22-24

WHERE: Le Chat Noir, 304 Eighth St.

COST: $25. $85 per couple on Valentine's Day; www.lcnaugusta.com


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