And here I’d thought the latest season at the Gladstone Theatre had ended. Originally, of course, it was supposed to wrap up with Bear and Co.’s TAMING OF THE SHREW, until a most excellent thing happened. The good folks at Same Day Theatre suggested a supercool team-up with Plosive and the Counterpoint Players, to bring one final pre-summer show to the Gladstone. So with dynamite director Brownyn Steinberg at the helm, Sarah Ruhl’s IN THE NEXT ROOM (or THE VIBRATOR PLAY) is now upon us. And that is a very good thing.
One of those, whatchamacallit, ‘controversial’ plays (if, you know, sex is a thing that frightens and appals you), Our show opens in the late 1800’s, the dawn of the electric age (this is important) in the home/workplace of kindly Doctor Givings (David Whiteley). Doc Givings runs a practice out of his home, treating women for Hysteria, which he’s pretty sure is totally a thing that exists. His current treatment of choice is a bulky, prototype monster vibrator which should clear up all that pesky fluid in your womb making you all kinds of female crazy. And yes, this rather hilarious medical misstep actually happened, much to the delight of subsequent generations of ladies, and Sarah Ruhl makes astonishingly rich work of the premise. The good Doctor, mostly ignoring his oddball wife Catherine (Sascha Cole, who I apparently missed in 2010 at Summerworks and more’s my pity because she’s freaking awesome), takes in a new patient, Sabrina Daldry (the ever wonderful Sarah Finn, in great form here). Her husband Mr.Daldry (show producer David Frisch) has had it up to here with his wife’s ‘moods’ and ‘emotions’, and puts her in Doc Givings’ hands for some curing. But the unusual treatment, administered with the aid of stalwart but lonely nurse Annie (Michelle leBlanc…holy moley, what a cast…) Has a much more potent effect on Mrs.Daldry than she ever could have imagined.
Meanwhile, Catherine is forced to hire a wet nurse (the great Dilys Ayafor) to feed her baby when she become unable to produce milk, and becomes somewhat distracted by the sudden appearance of a rare male client of her husbands, bohemian painter Leo Irving (Robin Toller, in yet another terrific performance). There’s a lot going on in this show, often at the same time thanks to some nifty and perfectly timed split set action. And yes, there is a fair amount of discreetly covered-up use of the device of the hour and its intimidating male-centric counterpart the ‘Chattanooga Vibrator’ that actually requires two operators, mostly played either for laughs or sweetness (but let’s face it, still pretty hot). But it’s in the characters that this work really starts to transcend its potentially lascivious inspiration, as layers of repression are slowly stripped away to find the frightened and flawed personas beneath. There’s a hilariously disturbing scene in which Sarah Finn’s character contentedly describes ‘relations’ with her husband…it comes off with all the charm of a prison rape, but it simply never occurs to her to expect anything more. My heart broke a couple of times in rapid succession in the final act…Bronwyn Steinberg gets great performances out of some fantastic actors in a seriously smart show filled with laughter and tragedy. Definitely a highlight of the Gladstone’s year, and I’ll be glad to see Same Day returning next season (more about that in another post).
This is just a gorgeous, skillful production and, like Mrs.Daldry, I’m finding myself eager to come back for another go. Did I forget my gloves at the Gladstone..? Maybe I’d better go back and check, just to be sure. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)