Tricia Stiller/review: Be prepared to blush at 'Vibrator Play'

Tricia Stiller/review: Be prepared to blush at 'Vibrator Play'

It was not a surprise to see a capacity crowd at the opening performance of Sarah Ruhl's "In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play." After all, Ruhl, a Tony Award nominee, is widely regarded as one of the most important voices in contemporary theater today. But let's be honest, it was the sex that filled the seats.

Ruhl's humorous and intriguing play celebrates the invention of electricity and employs it as a metaphor to illuminate the repressed sexuality in women of the Victorian era.

Dedicated man of science, Dr. Givings (Jordan Coughtry) has committed himself to treating a horrible medical condition plaguing the woman of the day, known simply as "hysteria," which is thought to be an accumulation of ... stuff ... that manifests itself in a variety of ways, not the least of which is malaise, erratic behavior, pallor, you name it. It was believed that the womb was the source of this malady, and that only through carefully coaxed paroxysms arrived at through external stimulation could the illness be released from the body.

It was a lucky day for the good doctor when Thomas Edison invented electricity, for that led to the creation of a clever, vibrating device that could do the work for him. Otherwise, he was in for a bad case of carpal tunnel.

Much like the cobblers' children never having shoes, Mrs. Givings appears to be the only woman in town that is not being "serviced" by her husband. Struggling with postpartum depression, and a sense of failure because she cannot nurse her infant successfully, poor Mrs. Givings is practically climbing the walls for a lit,tle attention. She pulls anyone who comes to the door into conversation, speaking before she thinks, and eventually creates some romantic overtones with a visiting artist, one of her husband's patients, and the patient's husband. Will the good doctor finally get the hint?

Directed by Lisa Gaye Dixon, this production is visually stunning, thanks to an impressive set design by Yue Shi. Shi creates a beautiful split set that features both the doctor's office and his place of residence. The open floor plan allows for a variety of uses, accented by throw rugs and sturdy walnut furniture. A creative lighting design by Michael Cummings enhanced the overall look that also featured breathtaking costumes by Nicole Zausmer.

Coughtry is deliciously clueless as Dr. Givings, a man both haughty and vulnerable. Coughtry's seamless work presented the many complicated layers of his character with a contradictory ease. Ellen Magee compliments him nicely as his exasperated wife, Catherine. Maya Prentiss gives a wonderful turn as Elizabeth, whom the Givings have had to employ as a wet nurse for their daughter. Her devastating confessions as she declares her last day pack quite a wallop.

Elana Weiner-Kaplow is delightful as Mrs. Daldry, the recipient of the majority of the doctor's attention. Her post treatment portrayals alone are worth the price of admission.

At three hours, this production did feel a bit repetitive at times, but the audience, blushing and giggling right up to the end, didn't seem to mind.

Tricia Stiller is the downtown division manager for Bloomington Community Development and is the artistic director for Bloomington's Summer Theatre Program.

If you go

What: "In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play" by Sarah Ruhl.

Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday.

Cost: $25; seniors, $24; students, $15.

Running time: Three hours, including a 20-minute intermission.