When you think of vibrators, the Victorian era generally doesn't come to mind. Most people would probably find the sexual revolution of the 1960s a far more appropriate time frame … and yet Sarah Ruhl's IN THE NEXT ROOM, or the vibrator play, takes place in 1880s post-Civil War America when vibrators were regularly used as a medical tool.
Dr. Givings (played by Jeremiah Wiggins) is a doctor finding success in treating "hysterical" women with the help of a new electromechanical vibrator. His wife, Catherine (played by Nisi Sturgis) becomes curious of what happens in "the next room" during her husband's appointments because of the strange noises his patients emit. Catherine's investigations lead her into friendships with two patients – Sabrina Daldry and Leo Irving (played by Birgit Huppuch and Zac Hoogendyk, respectively) – and, eventually, a changed relationship with her husband.
Each of the six characters in IN THE NEXT ROOM go on a journey and ultimately transform into different people by the end of the play, whether in small changes or in major ones. While the entire cast is enjoyable and deserves praise, exceptional performances are turned in by Nisi Sturgis and Birgit Huppuch. The two women play off of each other wonderfully, and both display spot-on comic timing. Sturgis gives a layered performance as Catherine. You feel her disconnect from her husband and her desire to reignite the spark between them. Huppuch is responsible for a large amount of the play's humor. Her reactions to the treatments from Dr. Givings and her subsequent returns to retrieve "forgotten" items produce much laughter from the audience.
Michael B. Raiford's set is a thing of beauty. The Second Stage is presented in a thrust configuration, elevating Dr. Givings' office in the back and putting the living room of the house on a lower level in front. This allows the audience a clear view of the simultaneous action that takes place throughout the show. The colors and decorations are visually appealing and suited to the Victorian era. Attention to detail is also obvious in David Kay Mickelsen's costume designs. The dresses the women don are exquisite. The fabric is textured and layered and full of color.
IN THE NEXT ROOM does, of course, contain mature content, as well as brief male nudity.
Cleveland Play House presents IN THE NEXT ROOM, or the vibrator play through May 13th in the Second Stage Theatre. Evening performances are at 7:30pm and weekend matinee performances are at 2:30pm. Pre-show discussions with CPH staff are available 45 minutes before every performance and offer additional insight into the show. Post-show discussions with the cast and creative team are scheduled for April 29th and May 6th.
Tickets range from $49 to $69 for adults and are $15 for students. Purchase tickets online at www.clevelandplayhouse.com or through The PlayhouseSquare box office at 216.241.6000. The Allen Theatre complex is located at 1407 Euclid Avenue, the new home of the Cleveland Play House.
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni