TimeLine Theatre Company presents IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY Review – electricity for bodies and souls

TimeLine Theatre Company IN THE NEXT ROOM
TimeLine Theatre's revival of Sarah Ruhl's IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY features Anish Jethmalani and Rochelle Therrien and a set by Sarah JHP Watkins Photo by Lara Goetsch

Come for the faces, stay for the heart. That approach will make TimeLine’s revival of Sarah Ruhl’s IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY even more satisfying. Set in upstate New York in the 1880s -- at the dawn of electricity and peak of “hysteria” diagnoses for women -- Dr. Givings treats patients with an electric vibrator in his so-called “operating theatre.”  In the living room next door, his wife Catherine refuses to be sidelined.

TimeLine Theatre Company IN THE NEXT ROOM
Krystel McNeil, Melissa Canciller and Rochelle Therrien in IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY, a TimeLine Theatre Company production running now through December 16 at Stage 773 Photo by Lara Goetsch

As characters enter and exit these rooms, their faces project the humor and the pain of constricting 19th social norms. They grin, stare, implore, challenge and eye-roll like silent movie stars. Beneath the layers of costume designer Alison Siple’s gorgeous period clothing, their human hearts beat with overwhelming power. Sarah JHP Watkins’ handsome lattice-framed set interplays the fussiness of 1880s décor with the quest for illumination, both personal and scientific.

 

Female myths explode IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY

IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY takes the issue of sexuality and puts it right on Dr. Givings’ examining table. And just about everywhere else onstage. This is an era when orgasm dares not say its name, mostly because it doesn't have a name just yet. Certainly not for women. But the euphemisms to describe sexual climax – as a cure for depression, anxiety and other conditions – keep the comedy flowing.

TimeLine Theatre Company IN THE NEXT ROOM
Rochelle Therrien and Anish Jethmalani in Sarah Ruhl's IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY, directed by Mechelle Moe for TimeLine Theatre Company Photo by Lara Goetsch
TimeLine Theatre Company IN THE NEXT ROOM
TimeLine Theatre Company's revival of IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY with Rochelle Therrein and Melissa Canciller Photo by Lara Goetsch

Thanks to Thomas Edison’s invention, Dr. Givings can now restore his patients to health with something that, according to Catherine, looks more like a farming tool than a medical device. Just plug the vibrator in, flip the switch, and let it release the body’s pent-up fluids. In other words, rather than recognizing women as sexual beings, men need electrical equipment to fix them “down there.”

TimeLine Theatre’s production sends a strong message

Director Mechelle Moe keeps the farcical elements of Ruhl’s script in balance with its strong message: When men repress women, society overall suffers. Once we adjust to the outrageous vibrator obsession on stage, we notice how much loneliness and loss accompanies it. Lively and intense Catherine (Rochelle Therrien) cannot adequately nurse her newborn; Elizabeth (Krystel McNeil), the dignified and grounded black woman brought in to feed the baby, has just buried her own infant.

 

The cast has no weak links. In a small but critical role, Dana Tretta as Dr. Givings’ unmarried assistant Annie tends to his patients and their invasive treatments with professional efficiency. Tretta builds a potent presence for this woman whose intellectual curiosity, emotions and sensuality run deep. When she meets Dr. Givings’ doleful but vibrant patient Sabrina (Melissa Canciller) in the line of duty, the  unmet needs of these two women rise to a surface that has no place for them.

Science and desire in the crossroads

As the story progresses, we begin to understand how males also damage themselves when they diminish females. In the evolving role of Dr. Givings, Anish Jethmalani presumes himself to be governed by science until Catherine invades his protected space and liberates his heart. IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY catches America at the moment when electrical power pushed the nation forward as a world leader. But that simply cannot compete with the untamed electricity of the body and soul.

HIGHLY RECOMMEDED

WHEN:

Now through December 16
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 4:00 & 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 PM
 

TimeLine Theatre Company IN THE NEXT ROOM
TimeLine Theatre Company's production of IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY with Melissa Canceller and Dana Tretta runs through December 16 Photo by Lara Goetsch

Where:

TimeLine Theatre at
Stage 773
1225 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL

Tickets:

$42.50 – 56.50
Student, military & first responder discounts available
(773) 327-5252
www.timelinetheatre.com

About the Author

Susan Lieberman is a playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. She is currently working on a commission for BBC Radio. 

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