By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
“In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play ),” a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist and this year’s Tony Award nominee on Broadway, opened this week at South Coast Repertory.
The new play by Sarah Ruhl is set in the Victorian era and deals with Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba) who is having tremendous success with a new electric invention designed to alleviate the symptoms of “female hysteria.”
In fact, this odd mechanical box is a central player in the action, one might say The story considers the treatment, and the mistreatment, of women in the late 19th century, in a compassionate yet comedic style. There are plenty of laughs but the story is designed to make audiences think.
The doctor’s wife, Catherine (Kathleen Early), sets events in motion when she becomes curious about strange noises in an adjoining examination room. She, herself, is a lonely new mother eager for sympathy and understanding.
Catherine decides to look into her husband’s work which leads to friendships with two patients, high-strung Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo) and artist Leo Irving (Ron Menzel). These new connections inspire a better relationship with her husband.
Set in a spa town near New York in the late 1800s, the scenario deals with the fact that electricity has just begun to be hooked up in upper class homes. This new marvel has just been installed in the Givings’ home and in the doctor’s “operating theater.” Here, he practices gynecology and the treatment of “hysteria.” To help patients, he has started to use this strange electric-powered box.
Although the play treats the methods of treatment sometimes comically, the situation is based on fact. The use of primitive vibrators to help both men and women suffering from psychological problems is well-documented.
Award-winning Casey Stangl directs the cast, which also includes Tom Shelton as Mr. Daldry, Libby West as Dr. Givings’ assistant, Annie, and Tracey A. Leigh as Elizabeth, a wet nurse.
The plays’ creative team includes John Arnone (set design), David Kay Mickelsen (costume design), Daniel Ionazzi (lighting design), Jim Ragland (original music) and Kathryn Davies (stage manager
Giving Ruhl and the play high praise, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood called it “insightful, fresh and funny… a sex comedy designed not for sniggering teenage boys—or grown men who wish they were still sniggering teenage boys—but for adults with open hearts and minds.”
“In the Next Room ” plays in Costa Mesa through Oct. 17.