When I first walked into the Wilma Theater to see Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play", I felt as if I were looking into a mirror for the proscenium seating had been changed into that of a salon setting. Audience members can view the beautiful Victorian set by Alexis Distler from both sides of the performance space. It's as if we are all voyeurs and that we are.
It is the new age of electricity and Thomas Edison (after stealing everything from Nikola Tessla) has come out with an electrical apparatus to treat women for "hysteria". At the time it was believed that hysteria was caused by "an excess buildup of fluid in the womb". This condition then manifested itself as depression, loss of appetite, lethargy, uncontrollable crying and general unhappiness in the feminine sex. It was also proposed that this malady could be ameliorated and possibly cured by incurring "paroxysms" in women, thus relieving their stress and pent up nervous tension. In short, doctors and their female assistants were using external vibrators to give women orgasms. Of course they probably didn't know much about the female orgasm back then. In fact, that's what this play is really about - the disconnect. The current may be connected but the connection between pleasure and sexual relationships is never made. A Victorian husband was never required to give his soul mate physical pleasure in the boudoir. It was not expected to be given nor expected to be received by their wives.
So it is that Dr. Givings treats hysterical patients at his home with his experimental machine. His young, energetic wife Catherine, a new mother, becomes curious at the sounds of ecstasy emanating from her husband's office in the next room. Her curiosity leads her to discover the remarkable mechanism that her husband employs on his female patients. This discovery then leads to discord in their marriage. Why won't the doctor treat his own wife? "But you are not ill my dear", the doctor answers. Much of this wonderful play is "hysterically" funny. We laugh at the ignorance, the intolerance, the absurdity of these people and their absolute certainty in their beliefs. But this play is not without its underlying layers of sadness. There is the character of Sabrina Daldry who will never receive pleasure in her marital relationship. And though she receives some at the hands of Annie, the doctor's assistant, she cannot make "the connection" between the physical sensation and a loving liaison. Sex was not expected to be enjoyed by women - simply endured.
The acting is superior with beautifully subtle performances by Krista Apple as the pensive, quiet, Annie and Opal Alladin as Elizabeth, wet-nurse to Catherine's new baby and the subject of Leo Irving's painting of a Madonna and Child. Luigi Sottile is quite funny as the overly romantic Byron like painter Leo. John C. Vennema is rightly imposing as Mr. Daldry, the judgmental husband who utters my favorite line in the play, "Small women should eat large animals." Maybe it's because Iam a small woman, but every time I repeat this line to myself it makes me laugh our loud. Kate Czajkowski is very sweet as Daldry's long suffering wife Sabrina and Mairin Lee is quite good as the spunky, restless Catherine. Lastly, Jeremiah Wiggins is perfect as the exasperating, stubborn, yet well meaning level headed scientist, Dr. Givings.
Director Blanka Zizka is batting a thousand with her perfect casting and expert modulation of this play . The music by Christopher Colucci is quirky and eclectic and though very modern sounding fits the tone of the piece. The costumes by Oana Botez-Ban are exquisite in their detail and correctness. We know they are authentic down to the undergarments as many of the characters disrobe on stage. Speaking of disrobing, this is an adult play with mature themes. There is lots of dressing, undressing and simulated physical climaxing. There is also male nudity. However, if you are a woman and over the age of consent, it's a play not to be missed.
For tickets call the box office at 215-546-7824 or log onto the Wilma's website at www.wilmatheater.orgReturn to Home Page