It’s About What?

On August 16, 1998, I went to see a concert. I was very excited because, for the first time, I was going to see a bevy of nude women performing live music on stage.  Imagine my pubescent disappointment when the Barenaked Ladies turned out to be nothing like I expected.  Quel dommage! But I stayed, and within the length of a song, my gloom became glee.  I formed a new appreciation for Canadian alternative rock and Orville Redenbacher glasses.

We are told: Appearances are deceiving. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Just because you’re in a garage, it doesn’t make you a car. Okay, I may have made that last one up, but everyone is taught, from a young age, to not be judgmental. And yet, we live in a world molded by MTV and the internet. Images come at us fast and loose, and we have to learn how to interpret and file them quickly before they’re gone in the blink of an eye. This is the issue we face with In the Next Room.

When forming our very first season, we decided to start off with a bang. A production of Sarah Ruhl’s brilliant, critically acclaimed, headlining play about…well…vibrators. You might have noticed. It’s in the title.

The history of hysteria and Victorian medicine is true, and it’s fascinating. It is the kind of hidden story that, when we hear it, makes us tilt our heads and say, “Really? Huh.”  We’re not sure what to think, and, lacking a sense of historical context, it seems distant and even quaint.  We file it as a historical oddity.  If In the Next Room were just about that, though, we’d get bored ten minutes into the first rehearsal and call it a day.  It’s not.  This is the kind of play that demands to be given life.

This is a story about isolation in a rapidly evolving world. A young doctor treats women for hysteria in his home office, while his wife listens wonderingly from the other side of the door. A young woman who has lost her baby becomes a wet nurse for a stranger, pushing her sorrow deep inside. An artist’s longing for ne plus ultra creates in him a capricious determination to never finish a painting because he cannot hope to capture the intangible beauty of life. Almost everyone is smitten by something untouchable.

Electricity is new. Progress is in full swing. Engines are humming. And yet, people are still alone, walking past each other. Until, that is, in Sarah Ruhl’s capable hands, they find humor, passion, and the intimate connection that we all crave but rarely find.

There are vibrators in the play, but the play is full of so much more. It may just as easily be subtitled the intimacy play… a play about a desire for openness and discussion.  A play that will indeed shock it’s audience, but not in the way they expect it to.  People who come to the show expecting to see a play driven by double entendre and props will have those expectations frustrated; instead, they will encounter so much more.

It’s a beautiful, funny, surprising play. We have to do it. And yes, our moms will be there.

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