From September 24 to October 13, Abigail Killeen, associate professor of theater and chair of the Department of Theater and Dance, will star in a production of “The Clean House” at the Portland Stage Company, directed by Cait Robinson ’08.
“The Clean House” is written by Sarah Ruhl, a playwright known for her theatrical imagery and nonlinear storytelling that transcends traditional narratives and themes.
The production is centered on a Brazilian maid, Matilde, and how her life becomes entangled with three other women. Matilde’s hate for cleaning and love for comedy drives the play through moments of poignancy and hilarity. Killeen will play the role of Lane, a middle-aged doctor who employs Matilde.
Killeen holds an extensive background as an actor and was invited to audition for the role. It wasn’t until after her audition that she learned the production would be directed by Robinson.
“What I admire [about] her most in the rehearsal room is [Robinson’s] intelligence and the way she is really thinking about the text in a way that I credit, in part, to her education at Bowdoin,” Killeen said.
Although Killeen did not personally teach Robinson, she did attend the first play Robinson directed as a student at Bowdoin. Compared to that production, Killeen thinks she has grown even more thoughtful about her work after gaining post-college experience and interning at the Portland Stage Company.
“She’s still herself, but deeper,” Killeen said. “Experience gives you depth and I see that depth.”
“This is less an experience of discovery and more a process of satisfaction of seeing this big step in [Robinson’s] career and it feels like an honor to be taking that step next to her.”
Killeen is still teaching three courses at Bowdoin this semester. Although this dual responsibility of teaching and acting has proved to be difficult, Killeen finds the process rewarding.
“My work [at Bowdoin] is about acting so it’s really gratifying to stay consistently engaged with the rehearsal room,” said Killeen. “Whenever I do a play, I would remember all that I am asking my students to do in class.”
Killeen has found that her role in “The Cleaning House” has enabled her to speak directly about the production process with students, particularly those in her advanced studio course.
“It’s a very vulnerable and difficult thing. Self-doubt is part of the vulnerability of creating work, and it’s very uncomfortable,” she said. “[But] if you’re engaged with the field as your teaching, you have an authentic and fertile and lively relationship to the work itself.”
The Portland Stage Company is a member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), an association that makes productions specific to the context of its community.
“We are a diverse nation in every sense of [the] word and communities are distinct. [LORT members] are local, geographically precise and the stories that come out of the geography of a region need to be told in a particular way,” Killeen said.
Killeen is a strong supporter of the local theater community and looks to help it thrive. She feels that while shows on Broadway might be a once in a lifetime experience, the Portland Stage Company is able to form an enhanced relationship with its audience.
“One of the greatest pleasures of living and working in Portland is work[ing] with a number of the same people,” Killeen said. Because I have a relationship with [them], we can get to deeper work faster.”
Killeen’s theater classes will be attending the play this Saturday afternoon. Although she is nervous about acting in front of her students, this opportunity is one which also excites her.
“It’s scary for me because I’m being held accountable to what I’m teaching,” Killeen said. “I think one of the strongest things about our department is that we’re all engaged artistically … It’s a question of integrity.”