Tonight marks the Broadway debut for a work by acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl, who was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Clean House. Her In The Next Room or the vibrator play, which begins previews this evening at Rialto's Lyceum Theatre, is also her very first work to be staged on the Great White Way.
Produced by Lincoln Center and directed by Les Waters, this Victorian-era dramatic comedy stars Tony winners Laura Benanti and Michael Cerveris as a married couple coming to terms with a certain electric device. The cast also includes Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maria Dizzia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Wendy Rich Stetson and Chandler Williams.
Since Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre is already occupied by Bartlett Sher's Tony-winning revival of South Pacific, the non-profit is once again mounting part of its subscriber season in a for-profit Broadway house. In The Next Room is scheduled to open November 19 and run through January 10, 2010.
Ruhl's provocative title, of course, hints at its potentially stimulating subject matter. Lincoln Center describes the work as follows:
Les Waters also directed the world premiere of In The Next Room or the vibrator play earlier this year at Berkeley Rep, which had commissioned the work. The play received decent reviews there.
What exactly were doctors thinking back in the 1880s at the dawn of the age of electricity, when they utilized vibrator therapies on their female patients in the name of medical treatment? And what did the women think was happening to them when doctors allayed their so-called "hysteria" with a very personal newfangled machine? That's what Sarah Ruhl wondered when she set out to write In The Next Room or the vibrator play. Hysteria was a real diagnosis, and a quite common one given to women in the Victorian age. Just as common was medical treatment with electrical stimulating machines, the vibrators of the day, to ease their condition!
In The Next Room or the vibrator play is a provocative, funny, touching and marvelously entertaining story about a young doctor and his wife. Dr. Givings (Michael Cerveris) is obsessed with the marvels of technology and what they can do for his patients. His wife, Catherine, (Laura Benanti) is only a bystander in her husband's world -- listening at the door from the next room as he treats his female patients. Dr. Givings is not sure exactly how the vibrators help the women he treats -- but they do keep coming back. The only woman whose problem is not helped by the doctor is his own wife who longs to connect with him -- but not electrically.
Time will tell whether Ruhl's work generates the same kind of buzz on Broadway by appropriately titillating audiences.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).