HARRISBURG - Maybe if Sarah Ruhl had simply titled her play "In the Next Room," no body would have raised their eyebrows.
But when she added "Or The Vibrator Play" to the title, everyone started buzzing.
Open Stage of Harrisburg concludes its Main Stage Subscription Series with "In The Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play)" at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays, now through May 4. There's no better place to see this funny-yet-thoughtful play on sexual intimacy than the intimate surroundings of Open Stage, 223 Walnut St. (on the street level of the Walnut St. Garage) in downtown Harrisburg.
Open Stage of Harrisburg concludes its Main Stage Subscription Series with “In The Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play)” at 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays, now through May 4.
The play is set in a prosperous spa town outside of New York City at the dawn of electricity, circa late 1880s. The basic scenario of the play centers on a doctor who starts treating Victorian women - and yes, a few men - suffering from hysteria, using his new invention for "therapeutic electric massage."
The set is divided between two rooms, a parlor and the doctor's home office. As the sounds of the vibrating apparatus and the patients' squeals of pleasure "In The Next Room" grow louder, the good wife becomes more curious. Their marriage is already unsettled, with the wife feeling both frustrated as her own needs are ignored and a bit jealous when her husband brings in a wet nurse to satisfy their newborn baby.
Open Stage's long-time Executive Artistic Director Donald L. Alsedek was intrigued after reading a couple of Sarah Ruhl's other plays, "The Clean House" and "Dead Man's Cell Phone." Likewise for me after attending both of those plays. I saw Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble's "The Clean House" in 2010 and "Dead Man's Cell Phone" at the Millbrook Playhouse last summer. Both were funny and quirky, but what makes Sarah Ruhl rule as an outstanding young playwright in my opinion is "In The Next Room (Or The Vibrating Play)".
Last May, BTE staged a very (pardon the expression) stimulating production of this 2010 Tony Award nominee for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Director Cassandra Posieczko alerted the audience that the use of the "vibrator" is based upon actual historical events. "The ideas of motherhood, wet nursing, electricity, paroxysms and the ignorance of the human body are taken from historical sources."
But this is no tawdry drama with a vibrating gimmick. There are a few cheap laughs but they are more than offset by many thoughtful moments. Alsedek, who directs Open Stage's production, calls Ruhl's play "sweet. The doctor really feels for his wife, but he's at a loss to understand her needs."
Heading the cast is Ian Potter as Dr. Givings and Kimorie Cherry as his wife Catherine. Open Stage's cast also includes Cassidy Dermott, Kelli Kauterman, Colin York, Anrrsa Neibauer and Antony Leukus.
The play, with a running time of two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission, is obviously recommended for "mature audiences" although Sarah Ruhl, in an NPR interview notes, "A lot of it happens under a sheet."
Billed as a touching comedy about marriage, intimacy and electricity, "In the Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play)" is all this and more. As the doctor and his wife, after having examined the nature of their marriage and what it means to really love someone, step between the imaginary walls dividing the rooms to create the final scene. It's outdoors and snow is falling and the parties finally connect and know each other on an intimate level.
Open Stage of Harrisburg also connects with the audience with its spirited and (pardon the expression again) stimulating production. Consistent with this year's goals, "In The Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play)" is bittersweet, thought-provoking and always entertaining. For tickets, call 717-232-OPEN, ext. 6736, or visit www.openstagehbg.com.