|Sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter|
Buy an Ad
By Daniel Skora
It seems almost predictable that whenever a major discovery comes along that's meant to serve as a practical enrichment for society, someone is quick to follow with an application that makes that invention a useful aid to improving people's sex lives.
Thomas Edison, for example, had no sooner given the world a method of making pictures move than some enterprising photographer took it upon himself to sweet-talk a comely young maiden into disrobing in front of a camera, thus taking one giant leap towards the creation of that thing we call pornography.
"In the Next Room or the vibrator play," the current presentation of Performance Network Theatre, again finds Mr. Edison front and center, this time in a fanciful envisioning of how another one of his inventions could be used in the making of a stimulating new tool that could change the manner in which men and women orchestrate their sex lives.
The play takes place during the late 1880s in an affluent town just outside of New York City. Like other doctors who practiced their trade in a time before medical complexes could have been imagined, Dr. Givings (John Seibert) sees patients in an office just off the living room of his residence.
Dr. Givings is a physician with a special concern for the well-being of his patients, especially the female ones. In conjunction with how he treats those ladies, he has recently found a way to harness the power of electricity in a viable medical breakthrough.
The doctor has come to believe that the source of all stress and tension in the body is centered in the area of the groin. With that in mind, he has channeled the power of Edison's electricity into a device which not only gives immediate relief to sufferers, but also makes the ladies more amenable to their husbands. Quite naively on the part of the doctor, he has unwittingly created the celebrated sex toy that will come to be known as the vibrator.
Author Sarah Ruhl's play begins with all the spunk and humor of a comedic gem in the making. Mr. Daldry (Rusty Mewha), a gentleman of proper disposition, has brought his wife to the office of Dr. Givings with the complaint that she has been feeling "out of sorts of late" and asks whether the good doctor could do something to improve her disposition.
His wife, Sabrina Daldry (Leslie Hull in a scintillating comedic performance) quickly finds herself lying on the doctor's examining table, an electrical device thrust up under her petticoats, whirring and pulsating as it works to release the pent-up juices of her infirmity. When the device has run its course, she arises refreshed, her cheeks replenished to a rosy hew and her face resplendent in a smile of deep satisfaction. And she schedules another treatment for the next day.
Catherine Givings (Aphrodite Nikolovski) is the doctor's wife who, unbeknownst to her husband, harbors a few infirmities of her own. Can she, too, find relief in those same treatments offered by her husband to the women who pass through his office door?
Because none of the characters that populate Ruhl's play seem to have the slightest idea that what's actually happening in Dr. Givings's office could easily be classified as sex therapy, the naughty implications of the treatments seem pure as the driven snow (well, almost). This is one funny play, and when it plows its path through fields overgrown with comedy, it sits with the best.
But alas, a play that pokes fun at sexual inadequacies, even while it contains more simulated onstage orgasms than any show you'll ever see, will have a hard time proclaiming any kind of social relevance. So, in an obvious effort to maintain intellectual credibility, Ruhl interjects several subtexts and minor plot variations which allow the show to veer from its comic brilliance. Among several other characters in her play, she fabricates situations that seem unlikely and relationships that couldn't possibly develop in the short span of time that they do.
There's Elizabeth (Carollete Philips), the wet nurse who has been hired to suckle the Givings' infant because it cannot get enough nourishment from its mother's breast. Leo Irving (Hazen Cuyler) is a painter and a romantic who comes to see the doctor because of his own emotional inadequacies and is fortunate to discover that the doctor has concocted a companion device targeted specifically for male anatomy. Annie (Milica Govich) is the doctor's assistant. Govich can garner a laugh with just an expression, of which she has many during the course of the show. In what these three characters become in the end, each is responsible with undercutting the initial brilliance of Ruhl's comedy and PNT's sterling production of her work.
"In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play" is an intriguing comedy with larger aspirations. Patently funny, it strikes a serious chord about a time when the whole of the civilized world seemed to be living under the mores of the Victorian Age even while it struggled to break free of them.
The show is directed by Suzi Regan. The exquisite turn-of-the-century living room with attached office is expertly realized by set designer Monika Essen.
SHOW DETAILS: Performances of the show continue through July 15. For tickets and information, call the PNT box office at 734-663-0681 or go online to www.performancenetwork.org. The Performance Network Theatre is located at 120 E. Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, June 28, 2012
Click here to comment on this review