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Tuesday, 23 April 2013 07:32

‘In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)’ gives the subject of satisfaction a humorous touch

Written by Tina Farmer
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‘In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)’ gives the subject of satisfaction a humorous touch
news.wustl.edu

"In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)" follows the structure of a farce and, as such, multiple characters' lives become crisscrossed, and star-crossed, in order to bring to light the primary themes of the play. Interestingly, these themes are relevant not only to Victorian times, but, in many ways, the present.

Though we may have moved beyond the idea of "hysteria" as a "women's disease," and have a deeper understanding of a woman's ability to orgasm, chauvinism and misogyny are still relevant topics. Though we have a much deeper understanding of psychology, we are still faced with questions of individual motivation. Though we are quite comfortable with electricity, other modern conveniences perplex and frighten many of us. As much as we've changed, we're still the same.

In her engaging and often laugh-out-loud funny script, Sarah Ruhl presents a spirited look at the end of the Victorian era -- a time when new-fangled inventions like the electric light and automobile moved both society and intellectual thinking forward by leaps and bounds.

Throughout her script, contradictions flow easily, and with humorous effect. An inquisitive doctor seems genuinely interested in using science to understand and address his, primarily female, patient's malaise, but cannot fathom, much less see, his own wife's discontent. The doctor's wife protests that she says the first thing that pops in her head, dismissing her thoughts as inconsequential, even as she poses questions regarding her nature and position as a woman in an age of science and reason.

The Washington University Performing Arts Department production keeps the touch light and the tone upbeat while skillfully, and seamlessly, inserting the multiple layers of subtext contained in Ms. Ruhl's script. The entire cast appeared to have a solid understanding of not just the play's intended meaning and context, but also of the timing and commitment necessary to successfully present this farce. Under the skillful direction of Henry Schvey, the characters were distinct and memorable, the lines clear and clearly understood.

The relationship between the leading characters, Dr. Givings, played with an earnest, likeable demeanor by Pete Winfrey, and his effusive -- and much more insightful than she first reveals -- wife, played with just the right balance of coyness and tenacity by Kiki Milner, center the production. Their increasing tension, and its effect on Dr. Givings' practice, keeps the play's action moving briskly along.

It is Milner who provides much of the forward momentum for the show. She has a warm and engaging presence, which proves quite a successful choice. Milner and Winfrey also create a sympathetic couple; I wanted them to find a way to reconnect and was nearly brought to tears by the expressive closing scene. That scene, it should be noted, features brief nudity, which was in fitting with the play, discreetly presented and powerful in its purity.

In addition to Milner and Winfrey, Gabriela Schneider's Annie and Phoebe Richards' Mrs. Daldry stood out -- the tenderness of their budding friendship, as well as the surprise and shock of possible attraction, was refreshingly honest. Dana Robertson's Elizabeth is a kind, insightful woman who will not be played for a fool; Jack Dryden and Ricki Pettinato complete the cast, adding a touch of pompous businessman and artistic libertine to round out the performances in satisfying manner.

The technical aspects of the play were impressive as well, the large, two-room set was nicely appointed with period furniture and accessories. The costumes, particularly the many ladies outfits and undergarments, were impressive while still enabling for quick changes. The set and lighting complemented each other perfectly and the transformation from the Givings' house and medical office to a snow-filled outdoor scene made for an effective and dramatic closing.

For an enjoyable period drama that tackles a not-so-period topic with humor and a deft touch, "In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)" hits all the right spots. The show runs through April 28th at the Edison Theatre, to make your reservation, or for more information, call the box office at 314-935-6543.

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