IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY Review

Links to all reviews can be found on the BTC REVIEWS page. Blog postings, links and more are available on my FaceBook fan page. You can receive updates on Twitter from @BTCincyRob.

IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY presented by The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center & the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Department of Drama through Nov. 20. You can read the show description here.

The set. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

Congratulations to members of the technical team, led by technical director Nick Koehlke*, who were responsible for creating such an impressive environment for this play. This includes a set design by Jennifer M. Rhodus*, lighting design by Gustavo E. Valdes*, and the work of properties artisan Stacey Szczepanik* Also excellent was the wig and makeup design by Suseon Bok* (* indicates CCM student.)

Jared Wilson as Mr. Dalby, Clare Ward as Annie, Mary Malloy as Sabrina Daldry and Kristopher Dean as Dr. Givings. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

Production values aside, the play itself was…fine. This was the fifth Sarah Ruhl play I’ve attended, and of those, it’s probably my favorite script to date. In this interpretation, it seemed to be staged more as a period drama instead of a comedy/drama that explores contemporary themes by setting the play in “the dawn of the age of electricity; and after the Civil War; circa 1880s.” I found the production to be slowly paced (with a running time approaching three hours), emotionally flat and static in its blocking.

Jared Wilson as Mr. Dalby and Kristopher Dean as Dr. Givings. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

In a Ruhl play, the voice of the playwright is usually heard strongest in the female lead. Generalized, the lead is likable, intelligent, a bit quirky, stuck in an unhappy situation but determined to pursue opportunities to change it. The audience sympathizes with her and gains satisfaction when those goals are achieved.

Catherine Givings (played by Caroline Shannon) comes off more as a somewhat whiny victim of her unhappiness, drawn to the happiness of others, as opposed to someone who sees the happiness in others as a means to gain knowledge and find her own happiness. Where we should be sympathetic that Dr. Givings abandons his wife every evening to discuss the merits of electricity at the club, part of me thinks, “who would want to sit home and listen to that every night.”

Mary Malloy as Sabrina Daldry and Caroline Shannon as Catherine Givings. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

Regarding the play being emotionally flat, while I understand the notion of polite society, in this play it should serve as a contrast to what goes on behind closed doors and also to the characterizations of the patients after their “treatments.” Considering that Sabrina Daldry (Mary Malloy) and Leo Irving (Parker Searfoss) are suffering from “hysteria,” I found their pre-treatment personas to talk about their conditions but not actually show outward signs of their conditions. For example, Mr. Daldry (Jared Wilson) is not bringing his wife in for this radical treatment out of concern for her well-being, but instead out of concern for how he is perceived because his wife is unable to mask her condition in polite society (hence having her face covered in public). I want to see the cracks in the facade come through the acting.

Parker Searfoss as Leo Irving and Kristopher Dean as Dr. Givings. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

Patient Leo Irving is a self-professed painter who has been unable to paint for nine months. Yet in his first meeting with Dr. Givings he is impeccably dressed, not a hair out of place and discusses his condition as if it belonged to someone else. I’m not seeing the burden of his “hysteria.” I did think that after his treatment, Searfoss was successful in his characterization and that Irving’s energy and emotional level was exactly where it needed to be.

Mariel Tompkins as Elizabeth and Parker Searfoss as Leo Irving. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

I also enjoyed Mariel Tompkins as Elizabeth. She seemed to have a strong sense of the core of her character and maintained that character through the various situations and strange conversations she was a part of.

I honestly wish I could speak more to some of the smaller roles. Unfortunately I found my attention to the second act repeatedly distracted by some of the most ill-mannered theater patrons I have ever had the misfortune of experiencing. These scenes included the kiss between Mrs. Daldry and Annie (Clare Ward), the painting scene with Irving, Elizabeth and Catherine, the unwanted advances of Mr. Daldry to Catherine and the “sensation” discussion of Catherine, Sabrina and Elizabeth.

Caroline Shannon as Catherine Givings and Parker Searfoss as Leo Irving. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The final scene with Leo and Catherine is a good example of the static blocking I referred to. These stoic conversations do not make for dynamic theater. Neither does repeatedly watching people slowly dress and undress.

Caroline Shannon as Catherine Givings and Kristopher Dean as Dr. Givings. Photo by Mikki Schaffner.

The final scene, while visually stunning, again falls in the trap of being slow, deliberate and unemotional. Catherine and her husband FINALLY having this emotionally-satisfying love-making in the snow and it’s rather dull.

Overall I wanted more energy and emotion from the actors. The cast has capable performers but the seven individuals didn’t coalesce into a strong ensemble.

Click here for a complete list of show times, articles and other reviews for IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY.

I would enjoy hearing your opinions about the show or my review. All I ask is that you express your opinion without attacking someone else’s opinion.You can post your comments below.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY Review

  1. Marcus

    I was sitting not too far from you and witnessed both the audience member’s rudeness, as well as your rashness in responding.

    I’m also fairly positive I heard you audibly grumble something to the effect of, “Oh, get on with it!” during the quite intimate final scene.

    If you think people slowly undressing is not stage worthy action, then you are sorely mistaken.

    Ruhl did not include this so many times on accident, methinks.

    I have been a Cincinnati theater-goer for decades, and Rob, I follow and generally enjoy your work, but this piece seems to have quite a different tone than most: condescending and dogmatic. This seemed more like a skeletal review of a production filled in with explanations of why you understand acting better than the performers.

    From what I saw from the house, and from the fact you excused a certain lack of depth in your review on rude patrons, I would only hope that you would consider a second viewing before writing a review. You were clearly not in the mood for theater, let alone to be entertained.

    Anyhow, keep up the fantastic work!

    Like

    • Marcus thank you very much for taking the time to comment. I am sorry that you felt my review was a “hatchet” job. That was not and is never my intention in writing a review.

      I know and respect how much effort everyone puts into a production. Sometimes there is a magical synergy that comes together and a production is more than a some of a parts. Sometimes all the pieces are there and it just doesn’t gel.

      All I am trying to do is discuss what I see on stage from my seat. Never is it a matter of right vs. wrong and certainly not that I know more than anyone. I am simply telling you my reaction to what I see and I try to go into more detail than simply whether I enjoyed a production or not. I’m not asking you to agree with me.

      On paper, the emotional issues heaped upon poor Catherine invoke a sense of sympathy in me. It’s a horrible place for her to be and her journey is the center of the play. But when the actress’ performance doesn’t invoke those emotions for me, the lynchpin of the show doesn’t hold up for me.

      Regarding the undressing/dressing on stage, after the first several times it began to stop the momentum of the play. It being in the script is intentional, I was more questioning the choices in the execution of it.

      In a play that deals with electricity and sexual energy, I found the momentum of the show to drag. I also felt that the drama of the script was over-empahsized and some of the contrasting humor of the script suffered for it.

      I was very much in a mood to see a play. In fact, I was really looking forward to it. For the audience issue, Witnessing a car accident and being in a car accident are two totally different experiences. I didn’t like my reaction either but I’ve also never been in the position of feeling harassed just sitting in an audience. Live theater is just that, live. Things happen on stage and off.

      The decision to pull back the pacing of the final scene for me was anti-climatic. It was not a dream sequence, but their first true, passionate love-making experience, ever. I wanted to see that first-time passion in the performance. It is not a wrong decision, it is a decision that didn’t work for me.

      I do apologize for pulling a Homer Simpson and confusing my head voice and my speaking voice because I certainly know I thought that comment. It was not my intention to vocalize it.

      Like

  2. Marcus

    Not at all, Rob. I so appreciate you taking the time to respond, and upon reading this and rereading the review as a whole, I read it all in a new tone. I think perhaps I simply misinterpreted your tone, and now I see that perhaps you are just more passionate about this script than others; my apologizes. In fact, your passion is what makes your reviews special.

    Like

  3. steve suskin

    I only wish you had seen “Judgment At Nuremberg.” The contrast with “The Vibrator Play” would have made for an interesting article.

    Like

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