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“In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” Writhes and Wriggles with Life

Julie Fishell as Annie, Matthew Greer as Dr. Givings and Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry (lying down)

It’s hard to imagine that a play centering around the use of vibrators could be anything other than a bawdy laugh-fest, but PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) proves surprisingly deep and sensitive. Dancing around topics as diverse and serious as what it means to be a woman, motherhood, and the seemingly unbreachable chasms between all of us, Ruhl’s play still manages to stay grounded thanks to deftly delivered humor and a believable, lovable-for-all-their-faults cast of characters.

The story, set in the 1880s, focuses around Dr. Givings (Matthew Greer), his assistant Annie (Julie Fishell), and the colorful patients to whom they administer treatment for hysteria—treatment that comes from a vibrator. Tied together by Kelsey Didion’s spunky and spirited portrayal of the ever-questioning and curious Mrs. Givings, these characters face a host of questions about life, love, and the pursuit of pleasure.

Greer delivers even the simplest of his lines with punchy perfection, and Fishell’s Annie may well be the most interesting, subtly acted, and complex character in this loaded story. Katie Paxton, is adorable as the neurotic but sweet Mrs. Daldry, one of the doctor’s patients. Also, Dee Dee Batteast cannot be overlooked with her straightforward, slightly embittered portrayal of Elizabeth, the woman who is called in to be a wet nurse to Mrs. Givings’ child.

The winding, never-dull story plays out on a beautifully designed set by Marion Williams that is as lovely as it is functional, allowing the audience to see the action in both the main room and the doctor’s operating theater at all times. Anne Kennedy’s elaborate, period costumes contribute to the show’s believability, and Vivienne Benesch’s directing is both sweet and unabashed. Horribly awkward (but at the same time wonderful) writhing, wriggling, and moaning occur as often as one might expect, but they aren’t at all farcical.  Just as she isn’t afraid of pleasure-filled exclamations, Benesch is also wonderfully comfortable with brief moments of reflective silence, which are needed in a play so emotionally jam-packed, and she uses careful staging to play up the relationships between the women in the show.

Though Ruhl winds her story down a bit hastily, the actors and director do their best to lend a more concrete resolution to the story. In the Next Room is a surprisingly unconventional risk for PlayMakers, but it is faced with bravado and pulled off without a hitch.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Reviews