Love, loneliness and vibrators are in the spotlight in the next room


The Vancouver premiere of Ruhl’s 2010 Tony-nominated comedy drama kicks off the Ensemble Theater Company’s fifth annual three-piece repertory festival at the Jericho Arts Center.

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In the next room (or the vibrator set)

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to August 17 | Jericho Arts Center

Tickets and info: $ 17.50- $ 27, ensembleetheatrecompany.ca

“I’ll get what she’s got.”

This famous line from the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, spoken by a woman in the restaurant where Meg Ryan has just loudly faked an orgasm for Billy Crystal’s benefit, could be the subtitle of Sarah Ruhl’s play, In The Next Room.

The Vancouver premiere of Ruhl’s 2010 Tony-nominated comedy drama kicks off the Ensemble Theater Company’s fifth annual three-piece repertory festival at the Jericho Arts Center.

Ruhl’s title refers to the examination room where Dr. Givings, an 1880s American gynecologist, treats his patients for hysteria with a latest generation electrical device that brings them to “climax” while his lonely wife, in the adjacent living room, listen with nostalgia and jealousy to their cries of “oh my God!

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Ruhl’s subtitle is self-explanatory: The Vibrator Play. But the vibrator is just an inadvertent in-game way for women to derive sexual pleasure at a time when female desire and sexuality were taboo, even in marriage.

Ensemble director Keltie Forsyth has had mixed success with a storyline that runs through a string of rousing comedic climaxes to lose momentum halfway and stumble toward half-hearted dramatic resolution.

From left to right, Mariam Barry (Elizabeth), Lindsay Nelson (Ms. Givings), in the background Christine Reinfort (Ms. Daldry) and Alexis Kellum-Creer (Annie).
From left to right, Mariam Barry (Elizabeth), Lindsay Nelson (Ms. Givings), in the background Christine Reinfort (Ms. Daldry) and Alexis Kellum-Creer (Annie). Photo by Javier Sotres /PNG

Mrs. Givings, played emotionally by Lindsay Nelson, is a mess. Not only is her doctor husband (Sebastian Kroon) more interested in the science of electricity than her, but she doesn’t even have enough breast milk to feed her newborn baby. The nanny they hire, Elizabeth (powerfully unmoved Mariam Barry), whose own baby has passed away, only makes her feel even more inadequate.

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When Mrs Daldry (Christine Reinfort), another neglected wife, has a series of Meg Ryan-style paroxysms in response to the doctor’s treatment, hearing Mrs Givings wants what she has. For a moment, in an exciting conspiracy of women, these two wives along with the physician’s assistant, Annie (Alexis Kellum-Creer), seem poised to take over the instrument of science for their own pleasure.

Attached to a large wooden box, the vibrator looks and sounds ominous like a power tool or a giant dentist’s drill, but more often than not does the trick.

The second act features Leo (Francis Winter), a romantic painter who gets the male version of Dr. Givings’ treatment with an even scarier device. Mrs. Givings will dream of escaping happily with him. But almost nothing works for anyone according to the plan.

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Christine Reinfort (Mrs. Daldry) and Lindsay Nelson (Mrs. Givings).
Christine Reinfort (Mrs. Daldry) and Lindsay Nelson (Mrs. Givings). Photo by Javier Sotres /PNG

Although the men in the room, including Mr. Daldry (David Wallace), are rather weak blisters, Ruhl refrains from making them entirely disgusting. Kroon does a particularly enjoyable job, gradually revealing how Dr. Givings’ apparent oblivion is rooted both in the male culture of the day and in his own fear of sexual vulnerability.

Lauchlin Johnston’s ensemble features a transparent wall between the living room and the examination room so that the foreground and background scenes take place simultaneously, offering rich ironies. Julie White’s period costumes are distinguished by the layers of underwear women wear, protecting them from the direct physical experience of the world.

Ruhl flirts with side issues of race, homosexuality, religion, and art, but ultimately focuses on the lonely and frustrated woman trying to make sense of her own life and identity, like Nora in A Doll’s. House of Ibsen, which takes place at the same time.

If these women knew what Sally knew, they would have had a much better time.

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From left to right, Lindsay Nelson (Mme Givings), Alexis Kellum-Creer (Annie) and Christine Reinfort (Mme Daldry).
From left to right, Lindsay Nelson (Mme Givings), Alexis Kellum-Creer (Annie) and Christine Reinfort (Mme Daldry). Photo by Javier Sotres /PNG

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