The author's The Clean House was easily the most anticipated Off-Broadway opening of the fall. How could it not be? The drama's journey over the past two years has been nothing less than glorious, the stuff of dramatist dreams. During that period The Clean House was produced by many of the U.S.'s top regional theatres and short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize, while Ruhl was repeatedly championed by the New York Times and became a MacArthur fellow. The New York reviews of the current Lincoln Center Theater staging at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater were good enough to warrant the production's extension through Jan. 28, 2007, and Second Stage added to The Clean House's post-opening hoopla to announce that it had a Ruhl play of its own: Eurydice, which will arrive in May. Ruhl talked to Playbill.com about her new-found success.
Playbill.com: How did you get the idea for The Clean House?
Sarah Ruhl: I was at a party of doctors, and a doctor walked into the room and said, "Oh, it's been such a hard month. My cleaning lady from Brazil decided not to clean my house because she's depressed. I took her to the hospital and had her medicated, but she still won't clean. And now I've been cleaning my house." It was basically the first monologue said by Lane [the Blair Brown character] in the play. I got to thinking about this woman and whether or not she was actually clinically depressed or not. Maybe she just didn't like cleaning. And the play just spun out from that little found bit of overheard conversation.
Playbill.com: Did you ever have a maid when you were growing up?
Playbill.com: What made you decide to begin the play with the maid telling a long, complicated joke in Portuguese?
SR: I am always fascinated when I go to other countries and go to the theatre in languages that I don't know. I'm fascinated that [when watching a show in another language] you really know if [the action on stage is] a proposal of marriage or an act of forgiveness. I was interested whether a joke was funny in a language that people didn't necessarily understand. It's always thrilling to me when the joke is getting communicated even though most people in the Lincoln Center audience don't speak Portuguese.
Playbill.com: Do you speak Portuguese?
SR: (Laughs) No. Just a smattering I picked up to learn for the play. It's funny. On the occasions when Brazilian actresses have auditioned for the play, they're often surprised that I'm not a Brazilian playwright. Playbill.com: How did you find the joke that you used?
SR: This particular joke was from an actress in Los Angeles, and I've been collecting jokes over the past two years.
Playbill.com: I got the impression that it was probably a dirty joke.
SR: (Laughs) Yes, it is a dirty joke.
Playbill.com: Possibly it wouldn't have been allowed on the Lincoln Center stage if it was in English.
SR: That's possible.
Playbill.com: Tell me about your decision to express what's going on in the characters' heads through comical on-screen projections. How did that come about?
SR: That happened during an early workshop. I forget whose suggestion it was, but someone said, "You should really incorporate some of these stage directions into the play, because they really sound like the voice of the playwright, and that should be in there."
Playbill.com: You will have a second New York production this year, where Second Stage produces your play Eurydice in the spring. Do you have a cast yet?
SR: Les Waters is directing. So I think the cast will be pretty close to the one Les used at Yale Rep this year.
Playbill.com: What was your reaction when you heard you had won a Macarthur fellowship?
SR: I was completely surprised. I had no idea I was being considered.
Playbill.com: Do you feel a lot a pressure being the recipient of an award that people call a "Genius Grant"?
SR: I think I probably would if I let myself think about. Thankfully, I have friends and family around me who help me keep it in perspective.
Playbill.com: So you have friends who tease you, saying, "So, you're a genius now."
SR: (Laughs) I seem to have a lot of friends like that.