Opening night of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s breakthrough play “In the Next Room or the vibrator play” brought theater goers of multiple generations to experience the birth of electricity at the turn of the century. The fascination with the new invention and its impact on domestic life is a subtext to the rigid protocols of behavior that characterized the time.
Edison ushers in the possibilities of modern life on the heels of the stifling rules of relationships where euphemisms and unspoken yearnings take precedence over honest and direct communication. The social mores of the Victorian era are in sharp contrast to the subject matter of the revolutionary treatment of female hysteria.
Dr. Givings, the self-professed man of science is observant of everyone and everything with one major exception – his wife. While his wife eavesdrops from the next room and laments on her failure as a mother, Dr. Givings (Brad Heberlee) is perfectly oblivious if over indulgent.
Lissa Brennan as Annie, the good doctor’s midwife, perfects the aloof assistant with her deadpan expression, no matter what is transpiring in the operating theater. The over the top scenes in the operating theater are reminiscent of the deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally”.
The Charity Randall Theatre is perfect for the intimacy of the subject matter. The audience becomes willing voyeurs into the private moments of husbands and wives. As the layers of clothing are removed, so are the trappings of society.
Newcomer Denver Milord is well-cast as the effete artist Leo Irving suffering the male version of female hysteria. Megan McDermott is equally engaging as the loquacious Catherine Givings, longing to break through the perception of her as a china doll. She tests the bounds of propriety to experience the vibrator treatment that her husband refuses her. Catherine and patient Sabrina Daldry (Melinda Helfrich) soon form a bond based on self-expression and exploration – actions each had not previously felt free to take. Daldry housekeeper and Givings’ wet nurse Elizabeth (Jessica Frances Dukes) bridges the two families and provides the grounding ah hah moment for both Sabrina and Catherine. Philip Winters rounds out the cast as Sabrina’s over bearing husband known simply as Mr. Daldry in keeping with the times.
The stage is well done with the overblown Victorian parlor contrasting with the sterile operating theater in the next room. Since Edison is an unseen cast member, lighting plays a role almost as real as those who tread the boards.
“In the Next Room or the vibrator play” runs through May 5th, 2012.
Joyce Kane is the owner of Cybertary Pittsburgh, a Virtual Administrative support company, providing virtual office support, personal and executive assistance, creative design services and light bookkeeping. Cybertary works with businesses and busy individuals to help them work 'on' their business rather than 'in' their business. www.Cybertary.com/Pittsburgh