5. Setting the stage

  1. with Designer Grant Sabin
Grant Sabin shares his inspiration (and images!) for the clean and versatile set design of The Clean House.

Explore his design >

3. A history of maids and domestic help


In The Clean House, successful doctor Lane hires novice comedian Matilde as her live-in maid. When things don't go exactly as planned, we become aware of the accepted and the absurd in the age old relationship between the employer and the help. But just how old is that relationship? How has it changed, and how has it stayed the same?

​"Domestic Work and Workers," Encyclopedia of Chicago >

  1. “By 1870, one in five Chicago household employed domestic servants, accounting for 60% of the city’s wage-earning women.” Take a brief glimpse into the history of domestic servants in the city of Chicago. 

​​"Invisible Women: The Real History of Domestic Workers in America," Mother Jones >

  1. The US government has passed many acts, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, that are intended to protect the rights of workers. But there has been one field of employment that has continually been excluded from the protection these acts ensure. Check out the years of discrimination domestic workers have faced. 

​"Downton Abbey as History," Foreign Affairs >

  1. Downton Abbey is one of today’s most popular television shows, but does it accurately portray the day-to-day lives of domestic servants and their relationships with their masters in the early 20th century?

"Servants," Glessner House Museum >

  1. The Glessners were a prominent family who resided in Chicago in the late 19th century who employed over 100 different people in their home over three decades, but why was the turn-over rate so high? 


  1. with Director Ann Filmer
Ann Filmer, the founder and Artistic Director of 16th Street Theater, is making her directorial debut at Remy Bumppo! She recently joined us for a five question interview sharing her insights on the playwright, the play, and the upcoming production.

​Read the interview >

 Table of contents


  1. 1. About the Author
  2. 2. Magical Realism
  3. ​3. A History of Maids and Domestic Help

 our production

  1. 4. Five Question Interview
    with Director Ann Filmer
  2. 5. Setting the Stage
        with Designer Grant Sabin
  3. 6. Five Question Interview
        with Actor Alice da Cunha

1. About the author

​Sarah Ruhl originally intended to be a poet, but discovered her passion for playwriting while studying under Paula Vogel at Brown University where she wrote her first play, Dog Play. Although she switched her education focus to playwriting, evidence of her poetry roots can be found in the way she uses language and symbolism in her plays.

​Interview between Paula Vogel and Sarah Ruhl for Bomb Magazine >

  1. "I sat with this short play in my lap in my study, and sobbed. I interrupted my then partner, now wife, Anne Sterling, at her computer in her study, and read it to her, and the two of us shared that playworld, and the recognition of who this young woman could become: Sarah Ruhl."

​​Surreal Life: Sarah Ruhl in the New Yorker >

  1. ​"Nothing in her modest mien indicates her steeliness, her depth, or her piquant wit. Ruhl is reserved but not shy, alert but not aggressive. She feels big emotions; she just doesn’t express them in a big way."

​Sarah Ruhl on NPR >

  1. ​"At 31, playwright Sarah Ruhl has already been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Through her characters and her stories, she tackles big ideas with a voice that entertains and sets her apart from others. Ruhl's inspiration for her Pulitzer contender, The Clean House, came from a chance remark overheard at a party."

Sarah Ruhl and her new book >

  1. "​Sarah Ruhl is a busy woman. She’s a prolific, award-winning playwright, a poet, and now an unintentional essayist. The mother of three found herself searching for artistic inspiration—and the answer came in the short but thoughtful essays she wrote in her spare time."

2. magical realism

Sarah Ruhl sets The Clean House in "a metaphysical Connecticut" where apples thrown into the sea from a balcony land in someone else's living room, snow falls inside, and characters who exist in another character's imagination can be seen by the others onstage. While Ruhl's style has all too often been nonchalantly labeled whimsical and quirky, The Clean House, in fact, is a prime example of Magical Realism. But what defines Magical Realism?

Explore seven elements of Magical Realism >

the clean house FIELD GUIDE


  1. with Actor Alice da Cunha
Alice da Cunha is making her Remy Bumppo debut as Matilde in The Clean House. In a five question interview, she shared her thoughts on humor's role in Brazilian culture, the differences between Brazilian humor and American humor, and why she thinks humor is so important to Matilde.

Read the interview >