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We Love Arts: In the Next Room or the vibrator play

Eric Hissom and Katie deBuys in "In the Next Room or the vibrator play." Photo credit: Stan Barouh.

Ah, the Victorians! Always keeping the naughty bits tightly corseted. Such control freaks. At least, that’s our view of them now. It might come as a shock to learn about such inventions as the “electric massager,” on the scene in the 1870′s to relieve the frayed nerves of delicate housewives suffering from mysterious bouts of anxiety. Even more of a shock to learn before the dawn of the electrical age, physicians alleviated such symptoms of their patients the um, old-fashioned way, through manual manipulation. Yet somehow the resulting “paroxysms” and the accompanying relief were seen as strictly therapeutic and not erotic. Masters of keeping the physical and the sexual realms separate, those Victorians. One side Health, the other Damnation.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company‘s 2010-2011 season is titled “A Striptease for Your Subconscious” – and if the first play out of the gate is any indication, this is going to be one wild ride. In the Next Room, or the vibrator play explores this acutely private dance between the physical and the sexual, between control and release. Yes, it’s a play about a male scientist/physician using a primitive vibrator on his female patients (and one male) to bring them to orgasm in order to restore the bloom in their cheeks, and yes there are several scenes depicting this, but there’s a lot more going on. Playwright Sarah Ruhl dances on the edge of fairy tale, weaving the mythology of feminine awakening with just enough sweetness to win over any prudish audience member. The final moment of reveal and revelation might still shock some, but its daringness is rather beautiful.

In the Next Room or the vibrator play presents us with a seemingly ill-matched couple – the practical man of science Dr. Givings (a briskly authoritative Eric Hissom) and his wife, the charmingly impulsive Catherine (a radiant Katie deBuys). Sense and sensibility, these two. The doctor plies his trade in the next room, protecting his wife from his work and denying her the deeper affection she craves. The love they share is blocked, just as the unseen walls separate the doctor’s operating room from the drawing room, as the society separates the physical from the erotic. Into their circle weave other blocked lives, some comical, others heart-wrenching. Continue reading