by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea opened Sarah Ruhl’s Tony nominated play, IN THE NEXT ROOM Or The VIBRATOR PLAY on its main stage at 106 Sixth Street North in Jacksonville Beach. It runs through March 23. Call 249-0289 for reservations or visit www.playersbythesea.org.
The setting for this provocative play is a town near New York City in 1880. The time is one of enlightenment, a wonderful thing called electricity is making its way into the homes of the wealthy and so now, instead of burning candles everywhere to light a home, pulling a string brings brilliant illumination.
As an audience we are in the home and office of Dr. Givings (JASON COLLINS) and his wife Catherine (LESLIE RICHART). The set by Production Manager Brian Grant is one of the stars of this production. The set stretches across the entire stage, and depicts a large Victorian parlor and the doctor’s treatment room. The parlor has walls covered in a vivid rose and is comfortably furnished, with an upholstered couch and a piano; the treatment room has an examining table and other office accoutrements. The costumes by Lindsay Curry, Elyn Wolfe and Leslie Richart add to the authenticity of the setting, with long skirts and blouses, and suits for the men.
Dr. Givings practices gynecology and specializes in the treatment of “hysteria”, a disorder manifested by a wide range of symptoms, including depression, nervousness, and hypersensitivity. He is particularly upbeat about his professional future as the play opens; with the advent of electricity, he has a newly developed instrument to use in his practice. The new invention is an electric vibrator ( which looks like an electric drill to modern eyes) used to stimulate women to assist them in reaching a “hysterical paroxysm,” which is what is needed to cure their symptoms. Before this wonderful new tool was available, Dr. Givings or his assistant Annie (MEGAN GEORGERO) had to provide the required stimulation manually, a time consuming and tiring procedure .
Enter a new patient, Mrs. Sabrina Daldry (STACI GRANT) accompanied by her husband (ROGER LOWE) who explains his wife is suffering from alarming symptoms, like crying spells and sensitivity to cold and light. And he implies that their physical relationship is unfulfilling as well.
Dr. Givings tells hubby to take a walk and takes Mrs. Daldry into the treatment room and begins treatment to bring about a paroxysm. He has the patient lie on a table and . . . well, we will leave the details of the treatment for you to discover when you see the show.
Mrs. Daldry exits the office with a smile, and plans to return for another treatment the following day. In fact, she is looking forward to a series of scheduled treatments. Her husband is happy, she is happy and they exit.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Givings, an attractive woman, somewhat quirky and outspoken, with a new baby, has issues with her relationship with her husband and the constraints of domestic life. After hearing the outbursts of excitement from her husband’s office during treatments, she wants to learn more about this new facet of her husband’s practice. An opportunity presents itself when Mrs. Daldry arrives for an appointment while Dr. Givings is not available; the two ladies engage in a bit of experimenting with the magic machine in his office.
Dr. Givings also has one male patient, Leo (BRANDON MAYES), with symptoms of hysteria (rarely seen at the time in males), and we witness his dramatic treatment and improvement.
There is one final character in this play. Catherine is unable to produce milk for her newborn, so the family hires Elizabeth (CARMIN WILLIAMS) as a wet nurse; a common practice prior to the development of commercial infant formulas. The worldly Elizabeth shares additional insights about relationships with the two sheltered ladies.
This play was well researched by playwright Ruhl and is based on historical fact. The history of hysteria dates back to the fourth century B.C., beginning with a theory put forth Hippocrates. Treatment based on massage was used in the middle ages. Aquatic powered vibrators were available in the early 1800s; electric vibrators became widely available in the early 1900s. One study showed that in 1917, there were more vibrators in American homes than toasters. Advertisers claimed that vibrators were good for curing everything including deafness, headaches, impotence, and polio. There were even claims that they could put a glow and a smile on your face.
Needless to say, you will want to leave the children home. While there is no language as such, it includes lots of sexual references.
Katie Swider, in her directing debut at Players, has done a great job with a play that speaks to us as an audience. There is a lot of humor in the show and you will find it is well acted. It is a bold choice of material and an interesting study in the relationship of men and women before the turn of the century.
IN THE ROOM NEXT DOOR or THE VIBRATOR PLAY
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM