In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play

The discovery in the late 1800s of how to harness electrical energy through a circuit bore curious fruit in our uptight culture. A new vibrating machine could supposedly cure "hysteria," the ancient, inherited term for all manner of female ills. Sarah Ruhl's 2009 comedy, directed with gentle wit by Kurt Beattie, pits the doctor's simple on/off stimulation against the physiological complexities of the patient. Soon after giving birth in upstate New York, the vivacious Catherine Givings (Jennifer Sue Johnson) is flickering between forced cheer and despair over her inability to provide milk for her baby. Her prim, inattentive husband Dr. Givings (Jeff Cummings) is too busy vibrating other men's wives free of their hysteria to notice his own wife's misery. Overhearing an ecstatic patient inspires Catherine's curiosity about this new treatment for inducing "paroxysms." What the play lacks in narrative oomph is made up for in a cascade of intriguing eddies that spin out in the several unwalled “rooms” of Matt Smucker’s sparely suggestive set. Beattie and his able cast know how to shift gears smoothly among Ruhl’s hodgepodge of tones—sometimes comic, sometimes somber, sometimes anguished. At two and a half hours (including intermission), there’s a languor to the sprawl, but also plenty of titillating tremors to maintain engagement. MARGARET FRIEDMAN

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: July 29. Continues through Aug. 28, 2011

 
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