Review: In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)

If you are embarrassed to read—let alone hear— the word “vibrator,” or if the idea of watching actresses (and an actor) simulate multiple orgasms on stage is repellent, then … well, the Wilma’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) may not be for you. But if you can look past that word and the frank depiction of sexual discovery, you are going to find a tremendously poignant play. It is the dawn of the electrical age. The new technology gave us electric lights at home, the ability to electrocute elephants and dogs during public events, and a device that could cure women of hysteria (“too much fluid in the womb”) by producing a paroxysm. And by device, I mean a vibrator; by paroxysm, I mean an orgasm. It is with such a device that Dr. Givings (Jeremiah Wiggins) hopes to cure Mrs. Daldry (Kate Czajkowski) of her female hysteria. With a lift of the sheet and the application of the oscillating contraption, Mrs. Daldry undergoes her daily, toe-curling procedures.

On the other side of the door (the operating theater resides within the Givings residence), the lonesome Mrs. Givings (Mairin Lee) becomes curious about the vibrating sounds and the shuddering moans. With interest peaked, her discovery causes her to question her marriage.

There is much to applaud in this production—none more so than the work of director Blanka Zizka and set designer Alexis Distler. The set is an intricate marvel: glorious lights, beautiful floors, running water, and pitch-perfect details. Turning the typical proscenium theater into a salon setting (with two audience sections facing each other, across the stage), the play becomes even more voyeuristic. Not only are we watching these intimate moments, we are being watched as we watch these intimate moments. We, the observers, are also being observed.

And with fully realized performances, each actor brings depth and levity to the flitting script. Even with smaller roles, Opal Alladin (Elizabeth) and Krista Apple (Annie) command the stage. Whether with a written speech or a simple nod of the head, I found myself watching their every movement. From the first glimpse of the breathtaking set to the last beautifully quiet moment, the Wilma’s blushingly intimate production is not to be missed.