Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play
Las Vegas Little Theatre
Review by Mary LaFrance


Marni Montgomery-Blake (foreground), April Sauline,
and Chris Hermening

Photo by Susannah Smitherman
Apparently, the notion that women have sexual feelings was a foreign concept in late nineteenth century America. So much so that physicians used vibrators on their female patients as clinical therapy for "hysteria"—a vague condition signaled by, well, anything other than a feeling of domestic bliss. No one in polite society knew—or chose to acknowledge—that sexual relations between husband and wife could be mutually satisfying, or that women could find sexual satisfaction without the presence of a male (with or without medical credentials). And, thanks to the dawn of electricity, dedicated physicians no longer had to wear their fingers to the bone performing hand jobs on their grateful patients.

Playwright Sara Ruhl turned this interesting bit of socio-medical history into her witty play In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play, which had a Broadway run in 2009. This month the Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT) gives Ruhl's play a solid if undistinguished production.

Although the playwright's stilted dialogue—not a single character uses contractions—could lend itself to camp, director Gillen Brey plays it straight, and wisely so. Ruhl's humor shines as the characters' concerns over propriety conflict with their enthusiasm over the new invention. Stripped down to their unmentionables, the female patients nonetheless keep their shoes on throughout the procedure.

Brey has paced her production well and has staged the action effectively; the paroxysms in the home office of the aptly named Dr. Givings play out on one side of the stage, separated by a thin (and not wholly soundproofed) wall from the propriety of his drawing room. Although better acting has graced LVLT's stages on several occasions this season, the effectiveness of Ruhl's writing survives the uneven cast. A few performers shine: LVLT newcomer Shambrion Treadwell is understated yet powerful as Elizabeth, the domestic worker reluctantly drawn into the psychodramas of the doctor's family and patients. Michael Blair energizes the stage as Leo Irving, a frustrated painter who proves that males, too, can benefit from electrical stimulation applied in the right place. As the well-meaning and enthusiastic Dr. Givings, Chris Hermening conveys the character's strong medical ethic as well as his conflicted relationship with his wife; he loves her dearly while turning a deaf ear to her expressions of unhappiness.

In a play where electricity is virtually a character in itself—and where its novelty leads characters to compulsively switch lights off and on throughout the evening—Ginny Adams' lighting design is effective and well executed, in particular the special effects in the play's only outdoor scene. Shannon Nightingale's period costumes are appropriately elaborate; due to the nature of the play, the ladies' petticoats get as much stage time as their fashionable dresses. Ron Lindblom's set design also serves the production well.

It hardly needs saying, but this production is for mature audiences only.

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play continues through March 20, 2016, (Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm) at the Las Vegas Little Theatre's Mainstage, 3920 Schiff Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89103. Tickets ($24 adults, $21 seniors and students) and information are available at lvlt.org or (702) 362-7996. Under 18 not admitted.

Cast
Mrs. Givings: Abby Dandy
Dr. Givings: Chris Hermening
Annie: April Sauline
Mr. Daldry: Walter Niejadlik
Mrs. Daldry: Marni Montgomery-Blake
Elizabeth: Shambrion Treadwell
Leo Irving: Michael Blair


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