In The Next Room or the vibrator play | STCSA


In The Next Room or the vibrator play | STCSALeft – Lizzy Falkland and Amber McMahon. Cover – Lizzy Falkland, Pamela Jikiemi and Amber McMahon. Photos – Shane Reid.

Society has certainly changed. From an era in the 19th century, when polite and straight-laced society forbade public reference to, let alone display of certain body parts, comes the story of how the discovery of electricity changed "treatment" of "hysteria" in women (and even some men). Only now can it be told publicly on stage in the present era when any such parts can be not only spoken of but revealed, as in this play, from a breast, to a bum, to the full monty.

Yet even now in this age of "freedom" and "enlightenment" we still have our taboos: "polite society" still exists, in which no one would purposely call a child Fanny, and one seldom talks seriously about stroking one's pussy. The contrasts and similarities between the 19th and 21st centuries are cleverly portrayed in this Pulitzer Prize finalist play by Sarah Ruhl.

The invention of the vibrator is perhaps an odd place to start. While the play provides many excellent reasons for a good belly laugh, there is also plenty of tense or embarrassed laughter as this "touchy" subject is explored. In spite of the author's protest that it is not about the vibrator, but "the relationships that expand around the device..." it inevitably focuses a great deal on the vibrator. Consequently the audience is subjected to countless displays of orgasm (moreso in the long first act than the second) until the play finally reaches its own climax with the straight laced, scientifically focussed doctor (Renato Musolino) making angels, naked in the snow, as he and his wife come together at last.

Musolino is a convincingly buttoned-up husband, doctor and scientist, ostensibly preoccupied with the advent of electricity as an aid in treating "hysteria", ably contrasted by Amber McMahon as his wife, Catherine, who virtually represents the freedom of the present era which makes the play possible. Her natural comedic ability comes nicely to the fore throughout, and yet she also manages to portray credibly the frustration of not being able to reach her husband, and the stress and sense of inadequacy of being unable to breastfeed her baby. The purity of the relationship between the wetnurse (played simply and effectively by Pamela Jikiemi) and the baby contrasts nicely with the ignorance, formality and constraints of the adult relationships.

Cameron Goodall fits the role of the mad immobilised artist excellently, while Brendan Rock and Lizzy Falkland are Mr Daldry and his "hysterical", suffering and initially tense wife respectively, epitomising another constrained marital relationship, characterised by frustration, distance, and sexual confusion. Katherine Fyffe as the Doctor's assistant is suitably efficient and then surprising as she reveals the twist in the character.

The set by Ailsa Paterson is excellent in both design and construction, with an extravagant addition of the revolve revealing an outside-in-the-snow scene for just the final 5 minutes or so of the rather long play. Her costumes are not only well designed and made, but are authentic as well, as all layers of the complexity of corset and undergarment are revealed each time Mrs Daldry disrobes for "treatment".

Interwoven themes of discovery, rebellion, misplaced affection, frustration, sexuality, gender distinction, emotional constriction, unrequited and unfulfilled love and attraction are explored in this play with humour and frankness, even though it starts from a strange place, and inexorably builds to a peak – of liberation, if not of ecstasy.


State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
IN THE NEXT ROOM or the vibrator play
by Sarah Ruhl

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide
Dates: 3 – 24 November 2012
Bookings: statetheatrecompany.com.au






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