Sarah Ruhl's funny and feminist, historical and modern play In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play had its regional premiere at the Jungle about ten years ago, and can now be seen on Yellow Tree Theatre's intimate Osseo stage. It's an unexpected title, and while, yes, the play features the vibrator (more specifically the time in history when "electric massage" was a serious medical treatment for a particular ailment of women diagnosed as "hysteria"), the play is really about relationships, medical practice, the dawn of electricity, and connections. Yellow Tree's strong cast and detailed design, combined with this smart script, make for a highly entertaining night at the theater, even if it might make you squirm in your seat a little (which is not a bad thing in theater).*
The titular "next room" refers to Dr. Givings' medical office, which, awkwardly, is just off the parlor of his beautiful Victorian home in "a prosperous spa town outside of New York City." Women visit Dr. Givings when they're feeling a little off, and he very calmly and clinically administers the therapy, as their husbands chat with Mrs. Givings or take a brisk walk around the grounds. Catherine is very curious about her husband's practice, despite his attempts to keep her away from it. The ironic thing is that the doctor who is helping many women, strangers, to feel better, is completely oblivious to his own wife's needs. She has recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl but is unable to produce enough milk to feed her, so a wet nurse is hired to feed the baby. This leaves Catherine feeling inadequate as a mother and as a woman, something her husband has little sympathy for. He just pats her on the head and says "there there." Her restlessness and dissatisfaction manifest themselves as falling in love with a male patient (it is rare, but men apparently can also suffer from "hysteria"). Eventually the Givings are able to talk to each other about how they feel and what they want and need, in their own sort of way, and begin the road to healing and connection (without the aid of electricity).
|Paul de Cordova, Erin Farste, James Rodgriguez,|
Adelin Phelps, and Emily Gunyou Halaas (photo by Tom Wallace)
|Mrs. Daldry (Adelin Phelps) prepares for Dr. Givings'|
(Paul de Cordova) treatment (photo by Tom Wallace)
Yellow Tree had originally scheduled this production for February, and when Omicron hit, I'm so glad they postponed it instead of just cancelling it. It's a lovely, funny, touching play that is very much about women, their bodies and their relationships, historically but in a way that speaks to today. Check it out in charming Osseo through June 26.