By Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Copyright © 2022 Gia On The Move

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator”. For more information please review our reprints and permissions page.

Vibrating objects shoved up women’s vaginas to release their private floodgates in full view on a table.  Does that give you pause?  Shock you to the core?  An embarrassing giggle perhaps?  Or a secret desire (that you’d never admit out loud) to be a voyeur in the room?   Wait…what?!  (…momentary pause in convo resulting in head cocked to the side).  

A hot flash flickers across your body along with a wave of heat that paints your face with a tinge of red.  It’s odd yet somehow…beneficial?  You think, “Is this for real? Stimulation?!”   Yes.  And, you heard that right.  It’s a day in the life of a modern doctor treating a very needy patient. Except, this isn’t 2022 … It’s 1880.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl meant for her comedy about female sexuality, repression and identity at the dawn of the age of electricity to be absolutely provocative.  But it’s also based on historical fact.  There is more about The Gilded Age that is bizarre and barbaric than just vicious gossip, being shunned in society, or men in total control of everything.  And IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY, does nothing to short circuit the 100% real therapy practices by doctors of the time who used electric vibrators to treat “hysteria” in women.

According to Ruhl’s exploration on the subject, treating women with a vibrator at that time, was not considered sexual.  Women, after all, weren’t supposed to experience sexual desire or pleasure.  And doctors thought they were merely releasing fluid from a pent-up womb which caused hysterical symptoms.  (Well, they were mostly right.)

Directed by Lane Allison the play centers on the private practice of Dr. Givings (Spencer Cantrell) who is obsessed with the revolutionary medical device and its applications, although he’s not exactly sure how it actually helps his patients.  He nevertheless, works diligently to heal them.  And they do love coming back.  His wife Catherine (Dione Veremis), a young new mother, however, is regularly ignored and left to do nothing but listen through the door, wondering about what really goes on in the next room until one day, new patient Mrs. Daldry (Stephanie Crothers,) shows up.

When Daldry offers her maid (Monazia Smith) to Dr. Givings as a substitute for his wife who cannot produce enough milk to nurse their newborn, it leaves Catherine frustratingly free to act on her most curious impulses.   And, so begins a round of sexual awakening by everyone except for the doctor who seems to be blind to everything but his scientific research until things get deliciously and disturbingly quite out of hand.

IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY certainly has an attention getting title. And that should have opened the floor for an even more outrageous presentation.  There’s a lot to unpack in this comedy: misogyny, repression, classism, racism, freedom, fantasy, ethics, marital expectation, flirtation, experimentation and scientific exploitation.  And it’s supposed to be funny.  But oddly, so much of it isn’t.  The script goes on tangents and has at least one scene that takes you completely out of the comedy, which, in this iteration could easily be dropped without disrupting the narrative.  Also, the scintillating aspect of public female stimulation by the cast, while tastefully done, doesn’t allow the play to land until the most outrageous character in the room makes an appearance.  

Brian Bertone as passionate Bohemian painter, Leo Irving definitely “understood the assignment” by bringing his high-intensity, A-game to Open Fist Theatre’s production in the second act beginning with his session with Dr. Givings.   Bertone single handedly reigns in the comedy for a watershed performance by comparison.

IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY does have its hysterical, delicious and somber reality moments.  Directionally it’s uneven and the ensemble cast seems to not quite understand how to deliver on the complexity of seriocomedy (a la The Bird Cage, for instance).  Nevertheless, it is fun and a refreshing divertissement.

Written by Sarah RuhlDirected by Lane Allison

Starring by Bryan Robert BertoneSpencer CantrellChristopher CarverStephanie  CrothersMonazia SmithDionna VeremisAlexander Wells and Jennifer Zorbalas

Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company, Martha Demson, artistic director

In the Open Fist production, Spencer Cantrell and Dionna Veremis star as Dr. and Mrs. Givings, with Stephanie Crothers as the doctor’s anxious, depressed and “hysterical” patient Mrs. Daldry and Christopher Carver and Alexander Wells alternating in the role of Mr. Daldry. Monazia Smith portrays Elizabeth, the Givings’ wet nurse; Bryan Robert Bertone is the Bohemian painter Leo Irving; and Jennifer Zorbalas plays Annie, the Dr’s faithful assistant. 

Scenic design by Jan Munroe

Lighting design by Sarah Schwartz 

Sound design by Marc Antonio Pritchett

Costumes by Mylette Nora

Propmasters: Bruce Dickinson and Ina Shumaker

Production stage manager:  Jennifer Palumbo


 

WHEN:
March 18 – April 23:
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (Opening Night), March 25, April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9, April 16, April 23
• Sundays at 6 p.m.: March 20, March 27, April 3, April 10, April 17WHERE:
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
• FREE parking in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater.
HOW:
(323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org

TICKETS:
General Admission: $25
Students, Seniors, Veterans: $15

Proof of vaccination required for admission. Masks must be worn throughout the performance.


Open Fist Theatre Company ensures that theater ventilation systems are up to the
recommended standard for COVID-19 protection.  Checkerboard seating (alternating seats and rows)

Photo credit:  

Bryan Robert Bertone, Monazia Smith
Photo by Frank Ishman