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Theatre Sarnia: ‘The Clean House’ cleans up at drama festival

Cathy Dobson Congratulations to the cast and crew of “The Clean House.” They sure know how to bring home the hardware.
Theatre Sarnia won top honours at the Western Ontario Drama League (WODL) Festival in Owen Sound with its production of The Clean House. Seen here are some of the cast and crew, from left; Marc Arseneau, Henri Canino, Holly Wenning, Paul Baert and Ashley Carlisle. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

Congratulations to the cast and crew of “The Clean House.”  They sure know how to bring home the hardware.

Holly Wenning, in her non-musical directing debut, took the production to Owen Sound’s Roxy Theatre for the Western Ontario Drama League (WODL) Festival where it won five awards and was chosen to advance to the provincial level.

“Everyone worked so hard. The competition was very strong. We didn’t expect to win,” said Wenning.  “So we were really excited and shocked.”

“The Clean House” – which Sarnians will get to see this month in a special encore performance  - is written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl and has unusual fantasy elements.  It’s a fast-paced play with both touching and comedic moments that rely heavily on the cast’s ability to deliver, break the ‘fourth wall’ occasionally and suspend reality.

WODL adjudicators judged “The Clean House” the Best Production, Best Co-ordinated Production and Best Visual Production. Veteran actress Henri Canino earned Outstanding Performance by an Actress, and actress Ashley Carlisle was given a special adjudicators award.

Others in the cast include Megan Hadley, Jay Peckham and Jan Walker Holt.

In total, about 25 people were involved in the production. Wenning said competition day was exhausting for everyone.

Each of the five festival entries is given one day to show up at 7:30 a.m., move into the theatre, build their set, check the lighting, possibly rehearse, present the entire show, then take the set down by midnight.

The four plays competing against Sarnia were Norm Foster’s “Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out” by Aylmer Community Theatre; John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” by Theatre Kent; Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Paris Performers Theatre; and Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by the London Community Players.

Theatre Sarnia has a solid history of doing well at the WODL Festival, but it’s been a while since this many trophies came home.

“The Clean House” will next compete at the Theatre Ontario Festival in Oshawa on May 16. The last time a Theatre Sarnia show competed at the provincial level was 2009.

“I think we’re doing well because the play is so unusual,” said Wenning. “It was an audience favourite in Owen Sound.

“We have a very dedicated cast and crew that brought something new to the festival that people hadn’t seen before.”

A win this big has a ripple effect for the community, she added.

“Anytime we bring attention to our local theatre, it’s wonderful for the whole area. Theatre Sarnia is not just community theatre. We are lucky enough to have a higher level of theatre here.  People put their heart and soul into it.

“Keeping theatre alive is our goal.”

The date for the encore performance of “The Clean House” had not been announced by press time.

Meanwhile, Theatre Sarnia is working on its next production “Dixie Swim Club,” directed by Jan Walker Holt and featuring several cast and crew members from “The Clean House.”

It plays at the Imperial Theatre April 17, 18, 22 – 25 at 7:30 p.m. and April 19 for a matinee. For details, visit or call the box office at 519-344-7469.

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