Review: “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play”

A week after seeing the strong production of Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play,” I’m still trying to decide if the subtitle hurts or helps.

Yes, it's provocative. And, yes, the play does concern electronic stimulation and its effects. And, okay, their are simulated orgasms galore. But Sarah Ruhl's play–being given its local premiere at the Phoenix Theatre through this weekend–has much more going on then that. And it's actually a more innocent play than it may at first seem.

Set in a not-too-long-ago time when pleasure wasn't part of the sexual equation for many women, Ruhl takes details from medical history as the basis for a drawing-room-and-doctor's-office comedy about a wife curious about what her husband is up to. The women he treats in his medical office–using cutting-edge science–are certainly emerging happier then when they went in.

What makes this more than a bawdy "Saturday Night Live" sketch is that neither the doctor nor his patients see anything sexual in what he is doing. This is science, after all. It takes an outsider in the mix–an African-American woman brought into the home as a wet nurse–to even raise the possibility that sex could be pleasurable for a woman. And the reaction from the women she's speaking to is a hilarious silence, followed by laughter. Surely, they think, the woman can't be serious.

I won't give away much more. While I didn't buy some of the plot twists, there are others that are surprising and true. And the performances are consistently strong and gutsy–even if, in the end, Rule seems to abandon the characters she created in order to try to make more poety points.

As to that title, well, I'm sure "In the Next Room" on its own wouldn't have gotten the attention this show has. But there may still be some who have hesitated. Which is why I'm encouraging open-minded adults to check out this grown-up play before its final performance on Sunday. You can get more details here.

 

 

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