Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Theater Review: In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play

By Philip Doyle

The following review contains adult subject matter.  This is not a warning, but rather a seductive tease.  I’m going to talk about vibrators.  While I have never been one to embrace the harmonic pleasures of such a device … I have been acquainted with people (you know who you are), who unabashedly relish the joys of achieving resonant frequency with electronic gadgetry.  So before I delve deeper into the subject I suggest that you just relax.  Breathe.  Don’t be so tense.  Trust me.  The more you let go, the more you will enjoy yourself. 

In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, is Sarah Ruhl’s Tony Award nominated play about the innovation of the electric vibrator.   It is set in the 1880’s, when human toil was meeting head on with high voltage electricity that powered an industrial revolution.  An exciting time when Thomas Edison began to introduce the light bulb into every home, dogs and elephants were being electrocuted for curiosity, and innovative sex toys became therapeutic medical instruments.

Calling this show a play about vibrators does not do it justice.  I guess for marketing purposes it can get tickets sold, but let’s not lessen it’s integrity.  Sure watching prim and proper women (and a man) discovering orgasm via a clunky hand-held appliance is funny.  I mean the zee-zee-ing of the noise alone is funny.  It’s damn funny.

What makes In the Next Room a great show is that it is way more than a Vibrator Play.  It is about transduction, the transference of energy from one system to the next.  On one hand you have electricity replacing effort, like the on and off switching of a light.  On the other hand, there is the intangible spiritual energy of intimacy, like the loving bond of a mother breast-feeding a newborn baby. 

Dr. Givings (Charlie Wingerter) has developed an electronic vibrator that remedies the build up of certain body fluids that cause hysteria.  Under the doctor’s supervision the rapid vibrations of his device cause a paroxysm, and a release of the congested fluids inside the womb.  Dr. Givings is devoted to the scientific method and any connection of his medical treatment relating to sexual pleasure is completely lost to him.  Wingerter portrays the good doctor with a scientific obsession and objectifying bedside manner. 

Mrs. Givings (Kaity Talmage-Bowers) is brimming with energetic curiosity.  Her attention shifts wildly in an attempt to discover her place in the world.  Kaity Talmage-Bowers gives her character an amusing sense of longing, a joy to watch. 

The first patient we witness surrendering to the pleasures of the vibrator is Mrs. Daldry (Aimee Janelle Nelson).  Mrs. Daldry is clearly damaged and lonely, and Nelson’s portrayal is ecstatically funny while remaining delicately sensitive.  Mr. Daldry (Arthur Pierce) finds his wife’s condition curious, but recognizes the need for her daily dose of vibration.

Annie (Linda Swanson Brown) is the dutiful doctor’s assistant.  She becomes an important emotional connection that the vibrator lacks.  Elizabeth (Lisa Young) also fulfills an important role as a wet nurse for Mrs. Givings.  Lisa Young has a magnetic emotional capability that becomes the beautiful human cornerstone of this play.

Leo (Adam Perkes) is the doctor’s male patient.  It seems that hysteria in men, while rare is quite common in “artists”.  Leo gives it up to the humming intrusion of the vibrator, and hoists this play’s second act up with foppish charm and wit.  Perkes is whirlwind of exquisite energy, an actor driven with confident intent.  For me, Perkes gives a performance that is well worth the price of a ticket.

There is a moment in the second act when In the Next Room shifts in energy.  The comic tone becomes something more meaningful and intimate. Like the alluring vibrato of a single sustained violin note, it brings you in closer.

If I owned a bowler hat, I would definitely tip it to Elliot Clough for providing the layers upon layers of period style costumes.  I also must acknowledge the rest of the crew for their outstanding effort.

My highest commendation goes to director Deb Flomberg, for embodying this production with moments of joyful hysteria while respecting the intent of the play’s message.  The result of her efforts transcend the shameless appeal of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, proving it is so much more than the sum of its mechanical parts.

Equinox TheatreCompany presents the  Denver Premier of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play” by Sarah Ruhl through June 16, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM at the Bug Theatre.Tickets are $15.

2 comments:

  1. Adam Michael Perkes.June 3, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Thank you for the great review! : ) We all very much appreciate it.

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  2. Always a pleasure to help spread the word about great local theater!

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