When we last saw a show by Actors Guild of Lexington, at the end of 2011, there were a bunch of men onstage.
Connor McPherson's The Seafarer fit in perfectly with artistic director Eric Seale's penchant for dude-centric scripts. But Seale doesn't think his theater should be a boys' club, and one of his favorite contemporary playwrights is helping him change his ways.
"We call it 'Eric's sensitivity training,'" says Missy Johnston, who plays Ana in Actors Guild's production of Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House, which opened Thursday for a two-weekend run.
This is the second Ruhl script AGL has presented in as many seasons, after last year's Dead Man's Cell Phone.
"I don't think AGL has done enough in the last few years with female playwrights and roles for actresses," Seale says. "I'm fine with putting on a Glengarry Glen Ross, but it needs to be balanced."
The Clean House presents four women and one man in the story of a maid who hates to clean, a woman who loves to clean and a marriage falling apart in a way that has amusing similarities to the breakup of former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's marriage.
Charles and Lane are both doctors, Charles specializing in breast cancer. He meets an Argentine woman, Ana, and they instantly fall in love, with Charles declaring that he has found his soul mate.
"Then he goes hiking on the Appalachian Trail," Johnston says kiddingly. But, as in Dead Man's Cell Phone, things do get quite bizarre in the two acts.
On the same day that Lane discovers her husband is cheating, she also learns that her maid, Matilde, has not been cleaning the house and that her sister, Virginia, has.
"It's typical Sarah Ruhl in that there's fantasy and super-realism. I like to think of her as magic realism because there's a lot of magic that happens," Johnston says. "It's the same kind of quirky thing as Dead Man's Cell Phone. Weird things happen, but it's OK. It's Sarah Ruhl."
One scene is in a highly stylized operating room scene — surgery as interpretive dance, as several cast members describe it.
"It takes a while to get used to it," says Kimberly Burris, who plays Lane.
At the center of the action is Matilde (Suraya Shalash), the Brazilian maid whose life's goal is to tell the perfect joke. She opens the show by coming out and telling a joke — apparently a rather off-color one — in Portuguese with no translation.
"One of the things I love is that even though there is no translation, Suraya communicates that this joke is incredibly funny," Seale says.
"Matilde is the character that's really there for the audience to relate to, which is fantastic when you consider that most of the audience doesn't have her background or speak her language. Usually in a play, if there's a character that speaks to the audience, it's sort of an everyman, so the majority of people can relate."
This production of The Clean House seems to be all about people relating to new things.