Orange County Theatre Reviews

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. 

For the most part, the actors capture the humor in play quite capably. There are many solid laughs here. But what should be EXPLOSIVE moments of newly discovered physical pleasure are surprisingly toned down. Not sure if director Kerrigan was concerned with offending his audience or not, but the low simmer of these moments definitely keeps the play from opening up the way it needs to. These orgasms are earth-shattering events. Women never believed orgasms existed; sex was only for the purpose of procreation and certainly not meant for pleasure. It was a duty. But I didn’t see any earth-shattering in the show, just some heavy ripples, and not enough to change the world.

The set, composed of both a drawing-room and a medical treatment room, divided by a half-wall, feels crammed into this tiny black box space, leaving little room for the actors to maneuver. The final scene is staged on the floor, where the actors are invisible to any audience members past the first row. There are many little overlooked details that constantly detract from the reality of the show: a central door that won’t stay closed; a much-used electric light that never actually affects the light on stage, on or off; characters going outdoors in the middle of winter in New York with no overcoats; characters look out on a landscape through a window painted black. There are dialog passages where the actors seem to miss the point of what they’re saying. Hard to say if any of this is intentional, but it doesn’t work for me. However the costumes- done by Daisy McGarr- look great,even down to period undergarments.

Caitlin Zinn, as Catherine, comes off best. Her wide-eyed innocence at the beginning of the show hides her inner unruly nature, which takes a long time to finally surface. Her energy and endless curiosity for life carry the show. Paige Guick as the newly sexualized Sabrina and Jake LaRosa as a repressed male patient have some funny moments as well. But nobody feels like they’ve really been allowed to cut loose, so that the theme of the show—people learning what PLEASURE actually is—is never fully experienced. It’s an exceptional play, sadly not brought wholly to life in this production.

The show runs Thursday June 25 through Saturday June 27 at 8 pm, and Sunday June 28 at 5 pm.

My Review
6 Overall
Users 0 (0 votes)
Pros

- It manages to capture the story's humor.

- There are a few stand out performers.

Cons

- The production is way too timid.

-There are many little overlooked details that constantly detract from the reality of the show.

Summary

-It's an exceptional play, sadly not brought wholly to life in this production.

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