While studying at the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute last term, senior Emily Antoff picked up a script (a suggested read by her friend, junior Niki Acton) by contemporary playwright Sarah Ruhl. The script she picked up was “The Clean House,” a play which premiered in 2004 at Yale Repertory Theatre. One term later, Antoff is directing “The Clean House” in Studio Theatre for an independent study project.
“It’s a project that I’m doing as sort of a senior capstone in a way,” said Antoff. “It’s a way to take everything that I worked on at the O’Neill and everything that I’ve learned at Knox over the years and combine into one final product.”
A whimsical romantic comedy, “The Clean House” examines the lives of five eclectic characters and the complex inner workings of their individual lives.
“The plot of the show is a little tricky in that there [are] five characters who each has a very specific mess that [he/she is] dealing with,” said Antoff. “Each one of these characters has found this spectacular mess within [his/her] life. And for all of their lives, they’ve been able to take the barriers that have come up in their lives and they have swept them under the rug in a way. They’ve pushed them aside, tried to ignore them, tried to pretend that they don’t exist.”
Despite having established an impressive resume of directorial work during her four years at Knox, “The Clean House” proved to be a particularly demanding show for Antoff to direct. Many of the challenges she, along with her cast and crew, faced were issues of logistics.
“There’s a significant part of the show that is done in Portuguese,” said Antoff.
“It turns out that one of the theater professors is fluent in Portuguese, so I took that as a sort of sign that it simply had to be done. There was no option around it.”
Aside from the linguistic barrier the actors encountered, the show also presented an array of technical challenges that the designers had to face.
“This is a very tech-heavy show in that there are a lot of scenes that are flashback scenes. There’s a lot of incredible, spectacular lighting. The set is huge and the script calls for the set to be entirely white. So that was [all] a bit of a challenge,” said Antoff. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful show technically, which has given designers a lot to think about and a lot to work on, and I couldn’t be happier with what they’ve come up with.”
Despite all the logistical issues she had to face, Antoff recognizes that the technical and stylistic challenges the script demands allowed her to grow as a director.
“This play is not based in strict realism, which is what I’m used to working in. I haven’t worked with something that has more aspects of spectacle in it like the magic realism that this show has. So that’s provided me with challenges that I’ve never worked with it before,” said Antoff. “But it has also provided me avenues of different ways to express what is happening on the stage in a way that is more metamorphic than strict realism.”
She ultimately used her directorial work on “The Clean House” to reflect on the training she had undergone while studying with the Eugene O’Neill National Theatre Institute last term.
“While I was at the O’Neill in the fall, I learned a lot of new acting and directing techniques that I had never been exposed to before. I learned Lecoq training, which is a very specialized form of training that most [thespians] don’t get.” Antoff said. “The actors I had to work with have been incredible in taking these very new ideas that aren’t standard [acting techniques].”