In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
What's in the next roomor, In the Next Room? In that next room, just off a Victorian living room, is Dr. Givings' medical office. He brags that he's a scientist and he has invented an electrical device to help womena vibrator. The play is set outside of New York City in 1880, at the dawn of electricity.
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is performed on the Second Stage of the Cleveland Play House. Sarah Ruhl, the playwright, also wrote The Clean House, which the Cleveland Play House performed a few years ago.
Givings is a medical doctor who specializes in the mental health problems of women. These women seem "hysterical," anxious and stressed. As the word gets out about the healing powers of the electric machine Dr. Givings invented, the number of patients increases, including one male, Zac Hoogendyk.
Unfortunately, Dr. Givings' patients have to enter his examination room through the living room of his home. There, they often meet Catherine Givings, his wife, and see his baby daughter. The characters who walk through the Givings' living room on their way to the doctor's office provide some friendship for Catherine and a good deal of entertainment for the audience.
Dr. Givings doesn't want his wife to be involved or friendly with his patients. Catherine, a new mother, is lonely and desperately needs friends. She makes an effort to be friendly with a female patient and two males who come to the doctor's office. These friendships complicate her life and make her husband angry. What she really wants is intimacy with her husband.
Two performances need to be called to the reader's attention. Birgit Huppuch, who plays Sabrina Daldry, one of Givings' patients, was outstanding. Huppuch lets her character grow and change as the play progresses. In her opening scene, she is shy, quiet and scared. By the end of the play, she is vivacious and helpful to Catherine.
Jeremiah Wiggins plays the stern Dr. Givings. By the end of the play, he is capable of showing real affection for his wife.
In the Next Room is played in a set that works perfectly for the script and for The Cleveland Play House's Second Stage. Michael B. Raiford, scenic designer, has designed a functional set that fits the playing area's thrust stage. The downstage area is the living room. Behind the living room and up a few steps is the doctor's office, which is reached through a door that is stage right. Both rooms are sparsely furnished, which seems appropriate for a young couple starting a marriage and a medical practice.
David Kay Mickelsen, costume designer, has dressed the cast in mid-nineteenth-century costumes. The women wear long dresses, coats and elaborate hats. The men wear dark suits, capes and hats.
Director Laura Kepley helps her cast play for the serious moments and the comedic scenes. Unfortunately, the script needs to be pruned by thirty minutes. Kepley keeps the performance running at a quick pace and only at the end of each act was I aware of how long the performance had become.
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, runs through May 13, 2012, in the Second Stage, Cleveland Play House, Cleveland. For ticket information, telephone 216-400-7000 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
- David Ritchey