What happened in the Next Room Cylla von Tiedemann

It is an oft noted fact that the Victorians were woefully unknowledgeable about sex. Take this premise, add electrical power, and you have In the Next Room or the vibrator play. In the Next Room follows the sexually frustrated Mrs. Givings (Trish Lindström), who is married to a doctor who makes use of new electronic technology (i.e. the vibrator) to induce “hysterical paroxysms” in his (mostly) female patients, while simultaneously neglecting his wife.

This inevitably leads to various complications and intrigues between Mrs. Givings and her husband’s patients, some of which are more innocent than others. These add up to four attempted love affairs, one of which involves lesbianism, the acquisition of one wet nurse for the Givings’ baby, one portrait of the Madonna, courtesy of the apparently artistically inspiring properties of “hysterical paroxysm,” and innumerable walks in the rain and/or snow.

It goes almost without saying that the juxtaposition of uptight Victorians and sex is hilarious. This is in no small way helped by the fact that this production of In the Next Room is well-acted, well-directed, and meticulously well-staged. David Storch and Melody Johnson, playing the very square Dr. Givings, and his patient, Mrs. Daldry, respectively, are particularly notable in their roles, and author Ruhl’s writing shows an excellent ear for comedic dialogue.

Where this play falls short, however, is during its more serious segments, which are heavy handedly earnest in depicting the stultifying influences of propriety on people otherwise full of natural charm and vitality. The addition of serious themes to the play, while serving to humanize the characters, and show us the value not just of sex, but also love, makes things somewhat uneven and ponderous, especially for viewers who came mostly to satisfy their prurient curiosity about the Victorians.

In The Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Richard Rose, and co-produced with The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre will be playing at the Tarragon Theatre until October 23. The squeamish are advised to attend with caution, as, in enumerating the events of the play, in no instance did your reviewer see the vibrator being cleaned between uses.

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