Sunday, March 13, 2011

IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

It's the end of the Gilded Age, a time when sex for women is something that's not enjoyed, merely tolerated, and women are suffering from "hysteria" all over the place.  Dr. Givings has harnessed the newfangled power of electricity with a new treatment.  Enter the prototype electronic vibrator -- a device that the doctor has found very successful in treating his patients when applied to their nether regions, producing "paroxysms" in women, and the occasional male patient.  This method of treatment used by physicians during the late 19th century is historically documented, and serves as the basis for Sarah Ruhl's 2009 Tony nominated play.  Although the situations presented provide plenty of hilarity, it's the exploration of the emotional underpinnings of the subject matter that give this play its heart.

Dr. Givings' newest patient, Mrs. Daldry, is suffering from a sensitivity to light, mood swings, and a general nervousness that is causing her and her husband concern.  After a session with this rather scary looking implement, the color returns to Mrs. Daldry's cheeks, and she readily agrees to the suggestion that perhaps another treatment soon would be in order.  Tomorrow perhaps?  Dr. Givings conducts his treatments making small talk with clinical straightforwardness, and you get the feeling he's not really sure how his device works, only that it does.  If the paroxysm isn't achieved in about 3 minutes with his electronic device, he occasionally has to call on his nurse Annie for the uh… manual stimulation of his patients -- a particularly great scene.

Emily Dorsch (Sabrina Daldry),
Amy Landon (Annie)
and Ron Bohmer (Dr. Givings).
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. 

Hearing all of the sounds coming from her husband's operating theater, Catherine is beside herself with curiosity with what exactly goes on "in the next room", and with the help of Mrs. Daldry's hatpin one night when her husband is at the club (presumably a place where 19th century men go to talk about how they can't sexually please their wives), they break in to his surgical parlor, plug in, and discover the pleasures of his miraculous device with each other. 

Lack of intimacy with her husband isn't Catherine Givings' only issue though.  She and her husband have a newborn, but her milk isn't quite sufficient enough to properly feed her baby, so they hire Elizabeth, an African-American wet nurse who has just lost her own baby to provide for Catherine's child.  Along the way, Leo, a male artist who has just had a devastating break up, is displaying similar symptoms as the doctor's female patients -- becoming overtaken with a general melancholy and losing his desire to paint.  Lo and behold, he also finds much relief in Dr. Givings treatment -- for male patients, it's a long device called the "Chattanooga".

Emily Dorsch (Sabrina Daldry)
and Annie Purcell (Catherine Givings).
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
The Rep's Studio production, under Stuart Carden's wonderful direction, is gorgeous with lush Victorian costumes, as well as those fussy undergarments (Dorothy Marshall Englis), a beautiful set (Gianni Downs), and provocative lighting (Mark P. Wilson).  The sound design by Mikhail Fiksel is also very effective -- if you can imagine…  The performances were strong across the board including Annie Purcell's adorable, luminous and very funny Catherine Givings, Emily Dorsch's restrained Sabrina Daldry, James Reed as her clueless husband Mr. Daldry, Amy Landon as the doctor's deadpan yet sympathetic nurse Annie, David Christopher Wells as Leo the impulsive and passionate artist, Krystel Lucas as Elizabeth, the nurse who probably can't believe these white folks can't quite manage their lives in the bedroom, and of course Ron Bohmer's Dr. Givings, who eventually comes (no-pun intended) to appreciate the fact that you don't need an electronic instrument to produce… paroxysms with your wife.

Annie Purcell (Catherine Givings),
Emily Dorsch (Sabrina Daldry)
and Ron Bohmer (Dr. Givings).
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
I really loved this play, and it wasn't just the corsets either.  To tell the truth, it would be easy to sell this as an over-extended joke or emphasize the homoerotic overtones, but that would be missing the point.  Sex without love, vice-versa, the longing for connection as well as motherhood and self expression are themes that are universal and timeless, and this play manages to explore these themes with humor and heart.  You also may want a cigarette after.

Seriously, go see it.  I would make a comment about how stimulating this play is, but that would be too easy...


David Christopher Wells (Leo Irving),
Ron Bohmer (Dr. Givings)
and Amy Landon (Annie).
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY

Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Stuart Carden 
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through March 27 | tickets: $44 - $56
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Ron Bohmer (Dr. Givings), Emily Dorsch (Sabrina Daldry), Amy Landon (Annie), Krystel Lucas (Elizabeth), Annie Purcell (Catherine Givings), Michael James Reed (Mr. Daldry) and David Christopher Wells (Leo Irving).

Creative:
Set design by Gianni Downs; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis;  lighting design by Mark P. Wilson; sound designer/composer, Mikhail Fiksel; stage manager, Champe Leary.

3 comments:

  1. Definitely can't wait to see this!!! We should go some time before it closes!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely!! Check your email...

    ReplyDelete
  3. OMG...after reading this, I really want to go now!

    ReplyDelete

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