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Review: In The Next Room or the vibrator play

Posted by art On September - 30 - 2011

Ross McMillan, David Storch, Trish Lindström, Elizabeth Saunders, Melody A. Johnson. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

In The Next Room or the vibrator play
By Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Richard Rose
Starring Marci T. House, Melody A. Johnson, Trish Lindström, Ross McMillan, Elizabeth Saunders, David Storch, and Jonathan Watton
Run until October 23 @ Tarragon Theatre Mainspace

By Jen Handley

While In the Next Room or the vibrator play might not be one you’ll want to see with anyone whom you’d have to explain the concept of a vibrator to, Tarragon’s (Canadian premiere) production is an extremely enjoyable version of Sarah Ruhl’s Tony and Pulitzer-nominated play, and well worth the viewing and occasionally awkward intermission talk.

The play centres around Dr. and Mrs. Givings, a well-to-do New York couple in the late nineteenth century. The dawn of electricity has had a tremendous effect on their lives—not only are they the proud owners of more than a few electrical lights, but Dr. Givings has entered (my apologies for this and all subsequent puns) the field of electrical massage, the nature of which should be fairly clear from the play’s title, for the treatment of hysteria in his well-to-do female (mostly) patients. The play takes place in their living room and, directly opposite, Dr. Givings’ operating theatre, in which stands a table covered with a lavish throw, and a contraption that looks a lot more like a prototypical dentist’s drill than a sex toy. Nevertheless, it seems to improve the moods of his patients tremendously; and soon his wife finds herself longer content to stay in the parlor.

In the audience, we know plenty that the characters don’t, and not only the exact activities that Dr. Givings gets up to in his operating theatre (which Ruhl exploits to full effect). A lot of the fun the play is in watching the characters falteringly work their way toward discoveries that are obvious to us, like that the kind of interactions Dr. Givings and his technician have with their patients’ nether regions might not only constitute Onanism (their word, not mine), but have something to do with a the well-being of something besides their allegedly congested wombs. The play gets plenty of laughs out of its characters’ ignorance of women’s capacity for sexual experience, especially underneath the ludicrously unsexy gowns and bustles they wear in this production. But more importantly, by choosing this context in which to explore the relationship between physical and emotional intimacy, Ruhl is able to temporarily dismiss any preconceptions her audience might have about that relationship, the better to give it a nice close examination.

Trish Lindstr öm’s Mrs. Givings, full of energy and longing with nowhere to focus it, bounces from one thought to another so quickly that the audience can barely keep up, and moves just as rapidly from pinched frustration to ecstatic joy. Many of Ruhl’s characters are prone to abstract musings (phrases like “Her soul hovered here—just two inches above her eyes!” abound here), but the actors, especially Jonathan Watton and Melody A. Johnson as Dr. Givings’ troubled patients, bring to life what is often very stylized dialogue.

Although the production occasionally veers into the odd moment of sex-comedy cheesiness, its characters earnest search for connection and fulfillment is just as memorable as it’s miraculously delicate discussion of orgasms.

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MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at editor@mondomagazine.net

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