Lewd, romantic and funny, ‘In the Next Room’ explores intimacy and desire

Jacob Coakley

Three and a half stars

In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play Through March 20; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday & March 12, 2 p.m.; $21-$24; 18+. Las Vegas Little Theatre, 702-362-7996.

It’s the 1880s. Electricity is safe enough to bring into the home, but female sexuality is still too terrifying to contemplate. And so one doctor has invented a rapidly oscillating object that, once applied to the nether regions, brings about paroxysms that alleviate women of their hysteria.

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play is bawdy, lewd, romantic and, as befits the subject matter, deeply intimate. All that anybody wants in this play is to love better. To love the person they love better, and, in return, to be loved better. They’re either delightfully low stakes or the highest stakes you could possibly imagine. In the Next Room is also completely shot through with humor: some sly (repeated requests for Greek lessons); some knowing (a wife’s and husband’s complete understanding about topics that absolutely bore the other); and some completely ribald (the doctor calls a vibrator built to massage the prostate the “Chattanooga”).

Of course, the doctor’s young wife, Mrs. Givings (pun very much intended, I’m sure), can’t help but be curious (and a little jealous) as to what’s happening in her husband’s office—especially with all the racket the patients are making. Abby Dandy plays the wife with aplomb, giving her both the right amount of charming tactlessness and heedless gusto. Still, I’m not sure she resolves the character’s steel with her flightiness. In this, I wonder if she would be helped by a little more steel from her husband, played by Chris Hermening. While certainly earnest—and definitely not a villain—he’s the clear antagonist, and Hermening seems eager to keep him a little too blameless.

As you might expect in a play where everyone is obsessed with … ahem … paroxysms, there are minor romances happening everywhere. Michael Blair is dangerous in all the right ways as an artist who fears he’s lost his ability to paint, while Shambrion Treadwell’s wet nurse tracks a profound emotional journey. A subtle, growing flirtation between Annie (April Sauline) and Mrs. Daldry (Marni Montgomery-Blake) is a joy of code words and suppression (Greek lessons, indeed), until suddenly, it’s not. Director Gillen Brey emphasizes some of the flirtations quite well, while letting other notes drop, so sometimes it feels like the relationships don’t quite click all the way. The look of the play, however, clicks gorgeously, with special kudos to Shannon Nightingale’s costumes.

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