Written by Scotty Keister
Having already seen and loved Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone earlier this year, I was well prepared for this 2010 Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominated play “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play).” However, as currently staged at the Camino Real Playhouse’s Stage II, this production doesn’t live up to the more cerebral demands of Ruhl’s works. Her plays are heady treatises on the folly of human endeavor that manage to find hope amidst the shards of love and relationships. They are populated by humans at odds with the world around them, where a central female character struggles against both people and events to find some harmony and truth. They’re also damn funny.
Directed by Rick Kerrigan, this rather timid production plays more like an English drawing-room comedy, in that it manages to capture the story’s humor. But it fails to mine the deeper depths that lay within Ruhl’s characters. The story takes place in the 1880’s New York era and concerns a Dr. Givings. He is experimenting with a certain kind of electrical stimulation meant to treat women for “hysteria” – basically depression due to sexual frustration, not a condition that society would ever recognize in that era. Dr. Givings is essentially using a homemade vibrator on his female patients to produce orgasms (or paroxysms, as Dr. Givings indifferently calls them), which is something they’ve never experienced before. Miraculously, they suddenly feel much, much better. Coincidentally Dr. Givings’ wife Catherine is herself depressed due to her inability to produce enough milk to breast feed her newborn. Catherine’s own nature is, however, lost on her husband, who sees women only as experimental subjects. The doctor does have resounding success with his new patient, Sabrina Daldry, who becomes rather addicted to the treatment, and who encourages Catherine to try it on herself. Continue Reading