A great play made better by Director Nini Chakvetadze

Nino Burduli plays Virginia, and Salome Maisashvili plays Matilde in The Clean House; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

The Clean House is a great play. It won the 2004 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which is awarded annually to the best English-language play written by a woman, and it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Susanna Melo and I enjoyed reading the play before we saw the performance.

But the director, Nini Chakvetadze, one of our Tbilisi “daughters,” along with her actors, transformed the words into an even funnier, more whimsical, more believable experience. The play was performed in a small theater, with an audience of about 50 people, facing a relatively large rectangular stage. Around the stage, a series of about 10 light bulbs hung from the ceiling. Every time an actor “arrived,” (s)he pulled a string to turn on a light, and when (s)he left, the light was turned off. This simple but clever signal also refocused the audience’s attention to different parts of the stage. I also enjoyed the way Nini used some different sized white boxes to represent furniture, which actors would move around when “cleaning” the house. Sometimes the two larger boxes represented separate rooms in a home. Actors would enter the side of a box and close the “room’s door.”

The Clean House revolves around Matilde, a Brazilian cleaning woman who doesn’t like to clean but loves to create jokes. Salome Maisashvili brought a lot of energy to her role, and her body language brought the romantic comedy to life. In the opening scene, she tells a sexually charged joke in Portuguese. During an early rehearsal, Susanna Melo, a native Portuguese speaker, had provided a single language lesson. During the performance, Salome told the joke with gusto and without an accent.

Eka Chkheidze played the challenging role of Lane, a doctor who hired the maid to clean her house. Eka actually made it seem possible that Lane, an intelligent woman, could discover her husband having an affair with an older woman suffering from breast cancer, named Ana, and briefly afterwards could bring this “other woman” to her home and care for Ana.

Ana was played by Darejan Khachidze, who also acts in a convincing manner. Ana not only falls in love, but she bonds immediately with Matilde, the maid, and Ana later asks Matilde to kill her by telling her “the perfect joke.” Indeed, Ana hears the joke and dies laughing.

Nino Burduli played Virgina, Lane’s sister, who is an obsessive cleaner. In my mind, Nino was the funniest actor because of her exaggerated facial expressions.

I hope you have a chance to see The Clean House and to see any play directed by Nini Chakvetadze.

Salome Maisashvili plays Matilde, and Darejan Khachidze plays Ana in The Clean House; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Eka Chkheidze plays Lane, and Salome Maisashvili plays Matilde, in The Clean House; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

“This is the bus stop where I met Nini”

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

It became a memorable event. Something special. But it began in the most ordinary fashion. Susanna needed to go someplace unfamiliar and she needed to know which bus or mini-bus she should take. She looked around for a young person to ask, because young people are more likely to speak English. She ended up asking a woman named Nini, who speaks English quite well AND who knows the bus routes quite well—a very valuable resource. Susanna’s bus would arrive in 1-2 minutes. But in that brief period of time, Nini learned that Susanna is from Brazil; Susanna learned that Nini is a theater director. Nini’s directing “The Clean House,” by Sarah Ruhl, which has a character who speaks Portuguese, but no one in Tbilisi speaks Portuguese. Susanna to the rescue! And it’s Nini’s birthday!

Last night Susanna coached Salome how to pronounce the Portuguese-language part of the dialogue. But first, Susanna had to correct the problems with the translation. Nini is listening on the left; Salome is practicing on the right.

A good dive

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

A good dive has cheap beer and garlic fries. A good dive has no sign indicating its location; you must go downstairs to enter; people either know about it, or not. A good dive is always full of young people smoking cigarettes, but, hopefully, the room is ventilated. A good dive has waitresses who do NOT tell you their names or try to be your friend, unless you’re a regular; and then they allow you to kiss them on the cheek. A good dive has recorded music mixed with background chatter from all directions. A good dive has a few 50-watt bulbs, donated signs for its walls, and tables-and-chairs from who-knows-where. Nini and Salome were kind enough to lead us to their favorite Tbilisi dive.