nytheatre.com review by Sarah Whalen
October 9, 2009
So often, I enter a theatre without regard for the people around me. On my way there, I may have bumped into someone on the street, or perhaps I forgot to say "Thank you" to someone who moved over to make room for me on the subway. And on the evening I saw Sueli Rocha's Glue Trap, I was having one of those typically apathetic ambivalent days, where I go about my business with very little regard for the thousands of people I pass every day. Rocha attempts to combat apathy with her original one-woman show by inviting audiences into her world: the world of a New York City cleaning lady.
After coaxing a timid "hi" out of the audience, Rocha smiles politely, introduces herself and begins to tell the story of her life in New York. Through her thick yet soothing Brazilian accent she explains that she is actor in Brazil who moved to New York and started cleaning houses in order to survive. She discusses the trusting, honest, and deep relationships she has formed with her clients, and tells us "With me, they are just the way they are."
Rocha takes her audience with a gentle hand through a series of vignettes that span her career. Her writing is compelling, her voice is hypnotizing, and her tender, confident, compassionate personality shines through. The audience can't help but get swept away in the richness of her experiences and in her animated storytelling. Thanks to Nena Inoue's careful direction and lighting by David Zeffren and Amy Harper, Rocha's stories are focused, concise and full of infinite energy.
Through these stories, audiences learn about the job itself, Rocha's relationships with her clients, and the incredible amount of trust involved in cleaning the homes of complete strangers. She invites us in to the more humiliating side of the job through a hilarious story in which she was dog-sitting for a client who was away on business and the dogs both died one night together in the same bed. She says, with a horrified look, that she was asked to transport the dead dogs to the veterinarian in a black garbage bag because the owner wanted their bodies frozen. In several other stories, she spills the beans about her clients' dirty little secrets, like the obsessively clean "Mr. Perfect," who had an armoire full of harnesses, studded dog collars, handcuffs, and whips as well as a colorful potpourri of sex toys.
The stories are filled with lightness and humor because of Rocha's forgiving take on the unfortunate incidents she retells, but there is also a great deal of sadness that pervades the play. We hear about sickness that she has witnessed, loneliness that she has tried to cure, and the deaths that she was present for. She tells a particularly poignant story about how she watched a babysitter neglect the only child of one of her clients. She attempted to warn the mother but was ignored, and when the mother finally witnessed the abuse for herself, she didn't even attempt to thank Rocha for bringing it to her attention.
The theme of ingratitude runs strongly throughout the play. But, in the final story, we get the impression that Rocha finds her own small ways of feeling appreciated for all of the work she does. She tells a sweet story about how she removed a baby mouse from a glue trap and helped it find its mother. Rocha adds a little dash of fantasy and tells audiences about the little mouse's token of thanks: a piece of cheese from the upstairs neighbor. So there you have it: our experience is what we make it. Rocha seems to forgive and forget and celebrate the intimacies of our lives.
As my day was coming to a close, and as Rocha took a bow, I started to take notice of the infinitely complex lives of the people around me. I wondered about where they were off to, whether they had a good day or not, whether they had cleaned houses that day, or witnessed someone die, or whether they were sick. I made it a point to say thank you to the man who opened the door for me. And I started thinking about the lives of those thousands of people; their loved ones at home, their odd adventures, their jobs and their careers, their passions, their dreams—and I make it a point to smile more. This is a powerful, illuminating play, one that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.