BY NATALIE O’NEILL
Talk about a stimulating comedy.
A playful and poignant play inspired by the history of the vibrator — and its bizarre origins as a “cure” for so-called female hysteria — opens this week at Brooklyn Center For Performing Arts.
Brooklyn College will revive Sarah Ruhl’s award-winning play “In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” a drama whose Victorian-era sexlessness is burst open by a sudden blitz of female libido.
The resulting fallout highlights the absence of understanding between men and women — then and now.
“One moment, you’re falling out of your chair laughing and the next you’re touched,” said director Mary Beth Easley.
The story is set inside the home of a Dr. Givings, a gynecologist who takes advantage of the invention of electricity to create a mysterious device to treat troubled females. The arrival of a decidedly unsexy-looking, refrigerator-sized box literally and figuratively shakes up two marriages.
In one case, the doctor tells a client, whose wife is moody and prone to tears, “We need to relieve the pressure on her nerves” — but then even more, ummmm, feelings ensue.
The doctor’s matter-of-fact small talk — even as his patient lies skirtless on his table, experiencing her first orgasm — is funny. But it’s also a symbol of how disconnected male authority figures were (are?) from their less-empowered female counterparts, both in terms of knowledge and sympathy.
That disconnect is also apparent in the Givings’s relationship with his wife, who discovers the vibrating box — along with a delightful new sensation — forcing her husband to deal with her blossoming sexuality at a time when lady parts were (are?) considered scary and most women didn’t know sex should be fun.
The production of this play — which last year received Tony Award nomination for its run on Broadway — now offers an appropriately more intimate setting for the subject matter.
Audience seating is down on the stage, sandwiching the actors — for what Easley calls “the tennis court effect”— in order to make play-goers feel like they’re peeking into the home of the characters.
It’s all part of an effort to show that sexuality — and the human connection — is as delicate and relevant today as it was back when corset-clad ladies were urged to, “Lie back and think of England.”
In fact, those themes may be more important now than ever, Easley said.
“I kept thinking about how we are losing connectedness,” she said, recalling a recent trip to a coffee shop, wherein folks were glued to their iPhones, ignoring the other people around them.
“We’ve broken down tons of walls since [Victorian times],” she said. “But now we have new ones.”
“In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts [2900 Campus Rd. at Hillel Place in Flatbush, (718) 951-4500], Oct. 14-16 and 20-23. Tickets are $6-15. For info, visit depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater.