Solo season: Behind the scenes of ‘Clean’ at Theatre Aspen’s Solo Flights

"Clean“ diverges from Solo Flights one-person format with intersecting monologues

Emma Ramos (left) and Kate Abbruzzese work on a reading of "Clean" during tech rehearsals for Theatre Aspen's Solo Flights festival on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.
Timothy Bates Photography

“Clean” is not like the six other one-person shows that appear on the lineup for Theatre Aspen’s Solo Flights festival.

Mostly because, well, it isn’t one: Christine Quintana’s play about two women whose lives briefly intersect at a Cancun resort eschews the single-performer standard that puts the “Solo” in Solo Flights for a cast of two actresses, Kate Abbruzzese and Emma Ramos.

That was OK in Theatre Aspen’s book because the work presents its story primarily as two strong monologues rather than as dialogue, Theatre Aspen producing director Jed Bernstein said during a post-show talkback at the festival kickoff on Aug. 25. “Clean” runs again at 1 p.m. Saturday as part of a weeklong stacked schedule of plays still in developmental stages, each of which are produced twice over the course of seven days.

“I’ve done a lot of one person shows, and this is unlike anything I’ve ever worked on, in terms of the nature of the show, because it really is like two one-person shows that then fold into one another, in such a beautiful way,” director Melissa Crespo said in a joint phone interview with Quintana on Aug. 23. “And it’s almost like an origami piece, because each character has their own part that they fold and then make something beautiful.”

It’s a key component to the layered experience that the show provides as focus shifts between resort guest Sarah (played by Abbruzzese), a white Canadian in Mexico for a wedding, and Adriana (played by Ramos), a Mexican housekeeping manager at the resort who has just learned her father has died.

The play’s location, a destination hotel in Cancun, was inspired in part by Quintana’s own “disorienting” experience visiting family members who worked at a resort that is at once “in Mexico and kind of bears no resemblance to Mexico,” she said. Specificity of identity in the play was important to Quintana, herself half Canadian and half Mexican-American.

“There was a real sense of worlds on top of worlds that came out of that, and it sort of was a springboard for something I’ve been thinking about a lot, which is sort of how all of us are so deeply affected by the things that happen to us in our lives, and that it really permanently shapes the way that we see the world,” Quintana said.

Another duality unique to the production among the Solo Flights cohort: language. The show is bilingual from start to finish. As Sarah, Abbruzzese speaks almost entirely in English with Spanish subtitles displayed via onstage screens; as Adriana, Ramos speaks almost entirely in Spanish with English subtitles. Quintana wrote “Clean” in English and worked with Paula Zelaya Cervantes to produce the Spanish translation.

The bilingual nature creates a more inclusive theatre experience for those who speak either language or both. Sunday’s showing will also feature a post-show talkback with a cohort of Spanish-speaking members of the valley community, Bernstein said at the Aug. 25 show.

Representation was also on the mind of David Ivers, the artistic director at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, California, who brought “Clean” to Theatre Aspen’s attention for Solo Flights and plans to stage a production of the show at South Coast. (Ivers also stars in one of the Solo Flights shows this week, “A Shot Rang Out” by Richard Greenberg.)

“It’s extraordinarily important for me that the communities that we live in see themselves in our work. … I feel like one of our jobs, of course, is to wrap our arms around where we live, and ‘Clean; absolutely is a play that reflects a couple of different lenses, right?” Ivers said. “And, in addition, it’s a bilingual play, which, for me, became really thrilling because I tend to gravitate toward language plays anyway,”

Though there are many two-part components to the show — two performers, two languages, two stories that intersect — Quintana emphasized that there is no binary here.

“We’re so obsessed with difference, right? We have a Mexican character and a Canadian character, we have a white person and a brown person, we have Spanish and English, and we love these binaries, because they help us organize the world and help us understand it,” Quintana said. “But in fact, there’s a lot about these two women that’s so deeply similar.”

Quintana started working on “Clean” in 2018; she has, of course, expanded its scope and made some edits since the project began. But the greater change, she said, is in audiences she believes are now more aware of their own biases, assumptions and privileges. She hopes that awareness will help viewers look beyond what any one person might perceive as a “morality” to the play and tune in to the stories being told.

“There’s no real lesson,” Quintana said. “The provocation is about listening, and listening through your own biases about who you think these women are based on, on the kind of first snapshot you get at the top of the play. … The assumptions that we have about each other are always inherently flawed, because each of us is such a mosaic and a kaleidoscope of experiences, and memory and sensations that all we can do is listen as carefully as we can to one another.”

Solo Flights Schedule

All shows take place at the Hurst Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit

Friday, Aug. 27

“Making Good” at 4 p.m.

“Esmeranda’s Gift (Or How To Make a Crossword Puzzle and Solve Your Life)” at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 28

“Clean” at 1 p.m.

“The Noah Racey Project” at 4 p.m.

“A Shot Rang Out” at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 29

“Esmeranda’s Gift (Or How To Make a Crossword Puzzle and Solve Your Life)” at 4 p.m.

“A Good Day to Me Not to You” at 7:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 30

“A Shot Rang Out” at 4 p.m.

“The Noah Racey Project” at 7:30 pm.

Tuesday, Aug. 31

“Token” at 4 p.m.

“Making Good” at 7:30 p.m.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the South Coast Repertory Theatre.


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