“Can you imagine a time when everything will be electric?” In 2011, one might ponder the opposite as it’s hard for us to imagine life without electricity. In Sarah Ruhl’s Pulitzer and Tony® Award nominated play, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, the audience is transported back to the 1880s soon after the advent of electricity. From the fascination the play’s characters have with the light emitted out of a small table lamp to the progressive therapeutic methods to treat hysteria, Ruhl uses electricity as a springboard for an examination of social and interpersonal taboos.
The play centers on Mrs. Catherine Givings, a loquacious and insecure housewife, and her husband, a rational and scientific doctor who treats patients for hysteria. To treat the supposed hysteria that results from too much fluid in the womb, the doctor educes a paroxysm by stimulating the woman with his electricity-powered vibrating machine. As she overhears the loud noises coming from “the next room,” Mrs. Givings wonders just what the treatments entail. Her curiosity wins out, and upon discovering the reality of the treatments, she begins to wonder about the nature of her own physical relationship with her husband.
Synchronicity Theatre’s production of In the Next Room or the vibrator play may make some audience members blush, but the dynamic story of desire and longing breaks through the titillating aspects of the show and provides a profound examination of love and marriage. Director Rachel May has taken Ruhl’s challenging script and carefully picked a group of actors that bring distinct voices to their multidimensional characters.
As Mrs. Givings, Kate Donadio delivers a performance nothing short of outstanding. Commanding a strong range of emotions, she precisely plays the confused and somewhat jealous wife who longs for her husband’s attention. Proving the perfect balance to her, Brian Kurlander, as Dr. Givings, creates a sympathetic and believable character who is lost in his fascination with electricity and medicine.
Flawless in her scenes with Dr. and Mrs. Givings, Tiffany Morgan provides a delightful take on Mrs. Sabrina Daldry, a woman who suffers from “hysteria” and visits Dr. Givings for treatment of the disorder. As a guarded and mysterious woman, Morgan handles the role with both grace and humor.
Michael Halad’s split set design allows the audience to go back and forth from Dr. Givings’ living room to “the next room,” also called his “operating theater,” without missing a moment of the action. Perhaps the most impressive component of the show is Jonida Beqo’s costume design. Exquisitely detailed, the Victorian-era costumes dazzle. Complete with corsets, no detail has been neglected. From authentic undergarments to hats, her costumes help transport the audience to another era. Also of special mention are the functional, vintage vibrating machines used in the show, which are quite a sight to behold.
Synchronicity Theatre’s production of In the Next Room or the vibrator play continues performances through November 19 at Horizon Theatre. The play runs approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes, including a ten-minute intermission. For more information and tickets, please visit Synchronicity Theatre’s website.
– A. Wesley