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November 11, 2014 Published in Arts & Style, Other News

In The Next Room

By Laura Fries

(Courtesy Photo)

(Courtesy Photo)

Kudos to Port City Playhouse  and director Mary Ayala-Bush for going out on a limb and taking on such a daring topic, which, since its debut on Broadway in 2009, has been dubbed, “the vibrator play.” Given its rather risqué subject matter, this delicate blend of comedy and social commentary is often mistaken for farce. Moaning orgasm scenes are sure to get the big laughs, but the play also includes serious undertones of discord and discomfort—dealing with feelings of loss, jealousy and hopelessness. At its heart, Sarah Ruhl’s play, set in the prim Victorian era at the advent of electricity and the vibrator, is very pointedly about female sexuality; whose double standards still exist today.

Female feelings of inadequacy, not only in the bedroom, but with breastfeeding, come into play as young Catherine Givings (Madeline Byrd) struggles with new parenthood and a passionless marriage. Her husband, Dr. Givings (Will MacLeod), runs his health clinic literally in the next room of their home, providing “hysterical” women (and the occasional man) release from pent up “ailments.”  It’s sort of a “Masters of Sex” for the corset set. Catherine finds friendship, and eventually a sympathetic ear, in patient Mrs. Daldry (Alexandra Guyker), whose disinterest in her own marital relations are offset by her “treatments” by Dr. Givings and his very thorough and devoted nurse Anne (Kelly L. Moran). Wet nurse Elizabeth (Kadira Coley) joins the household to help feed the new baby, stirring up more feelings of discontentment and jealousy for Catherine.

The cadence of the script, as well as the wide range of emotions demanded, is a difficult feat for any cast to pull off. Truth be told, all of the actors here struggle at various points with the material. Taken as a whole, though, they eventually deliver a compelling, thought-provoking performance that, given the subject matter and various states of undress and arousal, require a great deal of bravery.  Ayala-Bush should also be commended for her amazingly detailed costumes, with each scene requiring fancy Victorian dresses for her women. The elaborate set is done well, with nice attention to detail, although the tech and stage crew were distractingly loud on opening night. The play, performed in two acts with a 15 minute intermission, runs through Nov. 22.

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