Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room or the vibrator play was first commissioned for Berkeley Rep. Sarah based her play on the book "The Technology of Orgasm". It is set during the 1880s, just the time when the age of electricity has dawned.
Laura Benanti plays Mrs. Givings, an eager yet naive young wife with an infant. Michael Cerveris, plays her husband Dr. Givings, a medical doctor more interested in electricity than her. More or a less a therapist, he sees patients suffering from "hysteria". He invents an electrical stimulator, basically a vibrator, that will cure them, particularly women and sometimes men, of their hysteria. This was the Victoria era when female pleasure was not discussed openly but became a medical cure.
Beginning as a ridiculous and somewhat awkward premise, the play weaves into an honest and beautiful story about enlightenment in several relationships in the story. At times it's very funny, thanks to great execution by Laura Benanti. By the end, it has evolved into a thing of beauty (and I don't just mean a complete strip by Michael Cerveris).
There are a number subplots that interweave with Mrs. Givings' story as the characters become intimate with each other. The doctor's surgery is in their home, yet he attempts to keep his wife isolated from his work, further sheltering her. First, she innocently meets Mrs. Daldry, played by Maria Dizzia, a female patient and her husband played by Thomas Jay Ryan. Second, though she is a new mother, she is unable to adequately nurse her baby. Mrs. Daldry just happens to have a black servant, Annie played by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, who has recently lost her own baby and is available as a wet nurse. A male patient, Chandler Williams, comes into their lives complicating things further both for Mrs. Givings and Annie. Finalizing the cast is lovely Wendy Rich Stetson, as Dr. Givings' assistant, who has her own sad journey to travel.
Mrs. Givings befriends Mrs. Daldry. As she recognizes that Mrs. Daldry's "treatments" are succeeding, she conspires with her to learn just exactly what the treatment is. She attempts self-treatment, but it's not just physical stimulation she longs for. She wants love and attention from her husband.
At the climax of the play, the transformation of the set is breathtaking. Up until that point, the set, by Annie Smart, is just two rooms of a comfortable house, complete with electrical lights. David Zinn has designed pretty period costumes, appropriately complicated at times. Les Water, making his Lincoln Center Debut, directs the play at a nice pace.
In the Next Room is playing at the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street through January 10th. While there isn't a rating, it is best suited for a sophisticated or mature audience. Discounts are available via Broadwaybox.com.