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In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sara Ruhl – Broadway Play Review




picture - In The Next RoomTheater Review

by Theresa Diamond

published November 29, 2009


In the Next Room or the vibrator play

now playing on Broadway at The Lyceum


Sarah Ruhl’s Broadway debut, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, currently running at the Lyceum, delivers less than it promotes. The play proposes newly unearthed “historical evidence” about 19th century women and sexuality, but the feminist viewpoint (if there is any) is reduced to one joke about masturbation. As you watch the action, you experience a sinking feeling that the playwright wants to be taken seriously but can’t quite overcome her own desire to please.  Like Obama, she wants to be liked by the wrong people.  Ruhl’s subject is female pleasure and the symbolic threat it poses to sober scientific procedure. She plunders the historical record in her story of a quack (Michael Cerveris) who offers treatment for female hysteria. And she certainly cherry picks the information that she presents.


Politics aside, In the Next Room or the vibrator play is a real crowd-pleaser. The play is set in an 1880s era upstate  New York spa town, and is the nearest thing to a rom-com on Broadway today. It works like a French daguerreotype postcard you might stumble on in an old bookstore. You know, the kind that depict women openly pleasuring themselves. They stand, in voluminous white undergarments and black stocking, frozen in mid-orgasm. They pose sometimes with an instrument or sometimes with a hirsute fellow in long underwear, a bowler hat, and an enormous erection. It’s naughty, quaint, and comical. And clichéd.


Still, the production is pleasing to the eye. Director Les Waters assembled an able designing team that creates a realistic living room that would not be out of place in a Wilde farce or one of Shaw’s comedies. And Ruhl does raise issues in the play that have potential. Maria Dizzia’s performance as Mrs. Daldry, the frigid hysteric who kicks off the first act with her multiple orgasmic displays, is suitably nervous and impassioned.  Unfortunately, Ruhl makes decisions based on political correctness instead of making art, as demonstrated in a subplot of a physical attraction between Annie (the doctor’s assistant) and Mrs. Daldry.   My companion called this the “I know a gay woman” genre. I second that emotion.


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