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Sunday, 13 March 2011 00:05

What Pleasures Await In the Next Room?

Written by Connie Bollinger
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What Pleasures Await In the Next Room?
repstl.org

Set in 1880's America and subtitled The Vibrator Play, In the Next Room, Sarah's Ruhl's, funny, touching, social comedy might make you blush but it's sure to make you laugh.

Although it's easy to get caught up in the obvious titillation of a play about the use of the first electrical stimulating devices in Victorian America, "In the Next Room" is so much more than that. It's about awakenings; social, sexual, emotional, discoveries that are linked to the invention of the electric light bulb and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

The play is set in the lovely Victorian era drawing room of Dr. and Mrs. Givings, and in the "next" room, the Dr.'s office. Dr. Givings, a man of science and medicine, has been using the newly invented electromechanical vibrator to treat women, and the occasional man, for "hysteria," a gentle euphemism for chronic sexual frustration.

His young wife, Catherine, a new mother who feels keen failure at her inability to feed her daughter and frustration at the Doctor's dedication to his science, is restless, bored and lonely. Against her husband's wishes, she engages a patient, Sabrina Daldry and her husband, in conversation and lays the groundwork for a deep friendship between the two women. Together Catherine and Sabrina break into the absent Doctor's examination room and embark upon a "scientific" adventure of their own.

Through conversations with Elizabeth the wet nurse, hired to plump up the couple's ailing baby with "strong milk," and Leo the Artist, that rare male patient, Catherine and Sabrina are awakened to the idea of real passion.

Everything about this play is perfect: Sets, direction, costumes, acting; but more importantly the beautiful subtext of the piece is gently presented in some very touching scenes. Krystal Lucas as Elizabeth the wet nurse and Annie Purcell as the Doctor's wife have a revealing scene together about loss and love that gave me a lump in my throat.

Dr. Givings, played by Ron Bohmer, is a completely self absorbed man, kind and compassionate with his patients but a bit dim when it comes to his own wife. Bohmer manages to make the Doctor likeable while keeping that frustrating level of distance between himself and any real emotion. Hard to play, but Bohmer does it beautifully.

Michael James Reed is Mr. Daldry, husband to Sabrina, one of Dr. Givings patients. He does a wonderful job with the stuffy Daldry who turns out not to be so stuffy after all. David Christopher Wells as the artist and patient, Leo, breezes into the story like a proper bohemian, handsome, articulate, and very attractive. He proves irresistible to the longing Catherine.

Krystel Lucas gives us a beautiful portrayal of Elizabeth, a woman in crisis doing what she must to deal with her personal tragedy and the sometimes blundering attempts of her employers to be sympathetic. Amy Landon handles her unobtrusive Doctor's assistant, Annie, with sensitivity and grace.

I've seldom seen anyone who could move across a stage with as much energy as Annie Purcell, who plays Catherine Givings. This woman is a small ball of lightening, dancing here and there, illuminating the stage every time she is on it. She gives us a Catherine who is waif-like but at the same time explosively powerful. Ms Purcell is the gem of this piece, no doubt in my mind. Like the play, she's a joy to watch.

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