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Good Vibrations: PlayMakers’ “In the Next Room” Hits the G-Spot — When “G” Stands for Guffaw

Annie (Julie Fishell) and Dr. Givings (Matthew Greer) employ a newfangled invention called a vibrator to treat Mrs. Daldry (Katie Paxton) for "female hysteria" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Annie (Julie Fishell) and Dr. Givings (Matthew Greer) employ a newfangled invention called a vibrator to treat Mrs. Daldry (Katie Paxton) for "female hysteria" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Last week, PlayMakers Repertory Company kicked off its ambitious 2011-12 main-stage season with an explosively funny production of Sarah Ruhl’s sublime sex comedy, In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), which is an inspired marriage of a vintage Victorian melodrama and a contemporary British sex farce. This R-rated presentation, which includes a short scene of male nudity, really hits the G-Spot — when “G” stands for guffaw.

Brooklyn, NY actor Matthew Greer is a delight as Dr. Givings, a pioneering 1880s physician who treats sexually frustrated female and male patients for “hysteria” — a diagnosis that the American Psychological Association didn’t abandon until 1952! — with a newfangled electrical device called a vibrator. Kelsey Didion is a scream as Dr. Givings’ increasingly curious wife Catherine, whose curiosity is piqued by the moans and groans coming from “the next room” — which is her husband’s operating theater — and the flushed faces of his excitable patients as they leave the operating theater.

PlayMakers regular Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Katie Paxton are highly amusing as the stodgy Mr. Daldry and his depressed wife, who gets her groove back via the electrical and manual stimulation that she receives from Dr. Givings and his middle-aged spinster nurse Annie (PlayMakers regular Julie Fishell).

PlayMakers Rep guest director Vivienne Benesch

PlayMakers Rep guest director Vivienne Benesch

Matt Garner adds a knee-slapping cameo as high-strung and incurably romantic painter Leonard Irving. Dee Dee Batteast is good as a the Givings’ African-American wet nurse Elizabeth, and Julie Fishell proves that still waters run deep with her nicely nuanced performance as nurse Annie.

Imaginative and inventive PlayMakers Rep guest director Vivienne Benesch and scenic designer extraordinaire Marion Williams stage In the Next Room with style and wit — simultaneously — in the Givings’ parlor and music room downstage and in Dr. Givings’ operating theater upstage. Benesch also elicits crowd-pleasing characterizations from each and every cast member, and sets a brisk pace — and the laughs just keep on coming.

Ably assisting director Vivienne Benesch in making her theatrical magic are assistant director Lauren Klingman, production manager Michael Rolleri, set designer Marion Williams, costume designer Anne Kennedy, lighting designer Scott Bolman, and sound designer/engineer Ryan Gastelum — all of whom do yeoman’s work in transposing this play from its normal proscenium-stage setting to the thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre.

Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry and Kelsey Didion as Mrs. Givings discover the joy of sex with the newly invented vibrator (photos by Jon Gardiner)

Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry and Kelsey Didion as Mrs. Givings discover the joy of sex with the newly invented vibrator (photos by Jon Gardiner)

Open-minded audiences will find much to savor In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), but bluestockings had better give this provocative play a miss. For them, the fact that In the Next Room was a nominee for the 2010 Tony Award® for Best Play and a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama is hurtling down the proverbial slippery slope like a runaway Luge in Olympic competition.

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 28th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/new-comedy-at-playmakers-explores-the-invention-of-the-vibrator/Content?oid=2666744; Sept. 27th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/09/27/1520325/vibrator-the-play-gives-lots-of.html; Sept. 27th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts & Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/09/in-the-next-room-or-the-vibrator-play-writhes-and-wriggles-with-life/; Sept. 26th CVNC (Classical Voice of North Carolina) review Jeffrey Rossman: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5077; and Sept. 25th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel article by Nick Andersen: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/blog/canvas/2011/09/scenic_design_nearly_steals_quotin_the_next_roomquot and Sept 22nd preview and Sept. 25th review, both by Katherine Proctor: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/09/in_the_next_room_explores_social_history_of_the_vibrator and http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/09/the_vibrator_play_leaves_audience_satised, respectively. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 25th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/09/sarah-ruhls-in-the-next-room-or-the-vibrator-play-is-a-2010-tony-award®-and-pulitzer-prize-nominee/.)

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY) at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27-30, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1, 2 p.m. Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4-8, and 2 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514. T

ICKETS: $10-$35, except $10 UNC Student Rush Tickets.

BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, gerdts@email.unc.edu, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.aspx.

SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/performances/event.aspx?id=4279fc69-b9a4-43c4-803b-8f6424f5b667.

UNC NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/content/view/4737/66/.

PRC BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.

PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/.

VENUE: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/paulgreen.aspx.

PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo/.

NOTE 1: On Sept. 28th and Oct. 2nd, there will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors.

NOTE 2: The Prologue Series, created by PlayMakers and the Chapel Hill Public Library (http://chapelhillpubliclibrary.org/), will present a pre-show conversation with a member of the PlayMakers creative team at the library at 12 noon on Oct. 1st (location TBA).

NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4th performance, which will also be sign-language interpreted.

NOTE 4: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion led by Theresa Yuschok, MD, after the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8th and 2 p.m. Oct. 9th performances.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Next_Room_(or_The_Vibrator_Play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=484355 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Ruhl (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database)), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=398718 (Internet Broadway Database).

The Director: http://theater.ciweb.org/leadership/ (Chautauqua Theater Company), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=69799 (Internet Broadway Database).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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