Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Thoughts on "In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play)" at South Coast Repertory

My friends, today was an awesome day!



Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


On Friday, I read on Twitter that South Coast Repertory, a theatre in Costa Mesa (Orange County) had their special "Pay What You Will" performance of In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play). Being a fan of theatre (and vibrators!), the play sounded wonderful, but I couldn't afford to see it at the regular rate. I was extremely excited to discover that tickets today would only be $10, so I hopped on the freeway and headed south towards destiny...

As these special discount tickets were only available at the box office, I drove down early, in hopes of getting a seat. Halfway to the OC, I took a wrong turn and wound up in downtown L.A., totally lost and rather distraught. Not to be outdone, and determined to see the play, somehow, I found my way back on to the freeway! Halfway through patting myself on the back, I got lost again, but thankfully this time, I was close enough to the theatre to remember how to get there another way.

I parked nearby and took my spot in the (thankfully!) short line. Instead of being shy, I greeted the elderly couple in front of me, and the man and I got to talking about proofreading. He was lamenting the fact that a pamphlet he made up for his business still had spelling errors after every eye in the family had seen it. Always now the promoter, I suggested my "professional skills" and gave him my business card. Hehe.



A happy girl and her second row ticket. :)


After a brief wait in line, I got to the ticket window, and the cashier said, "I have one seat second row center, is that okay with you?"
My eyes widened and I spouted, "Hell yes, that would be awesome!"
(I actually did indeed say, "Hell yes," as I was just that excited!) Ten dollars later, I was the proud owner of Row B, Seat 113 for the afternoon's performance.


***



Loved these lighted mirrors in the bathroom. And they had loads of stalls, so there was never a long wait to pee. Excellent job, SCR! :D


After a fun look around the mall (which you can read about here), I got back to the theatre about 1pm, and hung around out in the sunshine until they opened the doors. Several groups of teenagers were milling about whom I believe were part of a youth drama program. It made me smile to see them showing off and being silly, because it reminded me so much of my days at my Arts high school in Canada. Sometimes, I still wonder whether I'm a frustrated actor, but I digress...



View of the stage from my second row seat!


The play was in the Julianne Argyros theatre, the slightly smaller, "second" stage, which sits beside the Segerstrom main stage. After having my ticket scanned (which I thought was way cool and ingenious), I was able to walk freely around the complex without having to flash my ticket to anyone again. I made my way down to my seat, that ended up being smack dab in the center of the row, which delighted me to no end. Plopping my stuff down on my chair, I made a last respite to the restroom. The staircases down to the seats were very narrow, and along the way, I had to wait for an elderly lady to pass. She saw me, and mistaking me for staff, asked for my help to get her down to her seat, explaining she had just acquired a new hip. Embarrassed by her mistake and apologizing profusely, I gladly obliged anyway, helping her safely down the stairs. On my way back to my seat, two friendly ushers nearby thanked me for my help and told them I was glad to be of service. Honestly, I was also secretly pleased to be mistaken for someone who works at South Coast Rep.



View of the stage from the balcony seats along the side of the house


Before the performance, I took a really good look around the Argyros, which even has a small balcony upstairs. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and it's big enough to house a good production, but small enough to still be intimate. Like Goldilocks' porridge, it's just right and I loved being able to explore its many nooks and crannies before showtime. After a friendly chat with my two elderly seatmates about Los Angeles theatre, I settled in to watch the play.



Dr. Givings' young wife Catherine (Kathleen Early) with patient Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo). Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play) tells the story of Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba), who, through Edison's marvelous invention of electricity has devised a machine that will rid women of nervous hysteria and other psychological and physical conditions which ail them. His machine generates electrical impulses at variable speeds and, when positioned upon certain parts of the female anatomy, serves to rid the patient of excessive bodily humors that may be the cause of her distress. The device is commonly known today as a vibrator.

The doctor has a young wife, Catherine (Kathleen Early) who is a little dimwitted, but still curious about what her husband is always up to with his patients "in the next room." Givings believes that experimenting on his own wife is unethical, explaining that she is already healthy and doesn't need his treatment. Much to her disappointment, Givings leaves her out of his practice. As the doctor is always busy with his patients or experiments, Catherine soon feels neglected and becomes distraught.



Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo) relates her problems to Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba) while her husband (Tom Shelton) looks on. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


We meet one of the doctor's ailing patients, Sabrina Daldry (Rebecca Mozo) who cannot bear bright light and is easily depressed. As a last resort, her boorish husband (Tom Shelton) takes her to Dr. Givings for treatment. She arrives a thin, timid figure, shrouded in black, but after a few sessions with the good doctor, her husband is thrilled to find she has color back in her cheeks and seems more carefree. Interestingly, her most successful session occurs when the power goes out at the clinic and Dr. Givings' female nurse, Annie (Libby West) has to perform the procedure "manually."

Trying to make the best of her lonely situation, Catherine befriends Sabrina, and curiosity getting the better of her, asks the young wife what her husband's treatments are like. Eager to share her experience, Sabrina agrees to demonstrate, which leads to one of the most charming and endearing scenes of the whole play.



Sabrina (Rebecca Mozo) undergoes some "stimulating" treatment by Dr. Givings (Andrew Borba) while nurse Annie (Libby West) assists. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


There are many themes – women as food, repression vs. release, science vs. nature – threaded throughout this play, giving it a wonderful mosaic quality. Many aspects of femininity and women's sexuality are presented in the most frank and amusing way, but aren't thrust in your face, so as to make you miss their point. Playwright Sarah Ruhl's gift of language gives the threads such wonderful color and charm, and the play is filled with quotable lines that are both witty and profound. Much of the story really hit home with me, either relating to me directly in something I've experienced in my life, or having to do with women in general. This is a "women's play," but men will definitely enjoy it almost as much.



Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


My one little trifle was the secondary stories, involving a young African American woman, Elizabeth (Tracey A. Leigh) who becomes the Givings' wet nurse after Catherine's milk runs dry, and a male artist, Leo Irving (Ron Menzel) who comes to the good doctor after experiencing a block in his creativity. These two characters, although lending themselves somewhat to the main storylines and themes, felt a little unnecessary. There is one scene in which Elizabeth has a monologue about breastfeeding that totally could have been cut out. Then again, remember – I'm childless by choice and this part of women's biology just does nothing for me, so it might just be me. The artist's story felt like a little too much comic relief, in that he was a man getting similar treatment, but the joke was only funny the first time.



Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


The staging was brilliant. The play went on simultaneously between the Givings' parlor, where young Catherine entertains the various patients and their families and "the next room," in which Dr. Givings performs his electrical miracles. One had to be a bit of a "tennis head" to bob back and forth between the rooms, but it was well worth the effort for the full effect it presented. The costuming was absolutely incredible. As the piece was set in the Victorian era, every tiny detail was perfect, and the choice to begin Mrs. Daldry in black, and then slowly lighten her outfits by scene as she transforms into her true self until she is wearing a deep, sexually potent purple color was absolutely inspired.



Catherine and Sabrina "experiment" with electricity. Photo by Ben Horak/SCR


The whole cast was fantastic, but the standout for me was Rebecca Mozo, who played the repressed wife Mrs. Daldry. Her transformation from a meek, withdrawn young girl into a blossoming, unconventional woman was amazing and the little touches she added to the character made it just come alive. I was so transfixed by her ability to move from comic to serious with such grace, and do hope to see her in another production somewhere else very soon.

I came out of the play with my head full of that wonderful feeling one gets after seeing really good theatre. No single movie can move one as much as live theatre does – the connection to and presence of the players so palpable as they act and react directly in front of you – and today was living proof of that. Ruhl's script is wonderful, and I'd love to see anything else she has written. I did have to quietly giggle at the final, touching scene, as it dawned on me that I haven't seen a play yet since I've lived here in Los Angeles that hasn't had some sort of male nudity. Hey, I'm not complaining!

My one qualm was the audience was not amazingly receptive to the play itself, many deeming it too controversial or risqué. As I stated above, although playwright Ruhl is dealing with some touchy sexual subjects, her writing gives them such a clear and witty voice, I was surprised both my seatmates and the elderly couple I befriended in line were so negative about the performance. The elderly man suggested it's a "generational thing," and I would tend to agree. As it was a (cheap) matinée, the majority of the audience was in their late 50s and upwards in age. Being a female in her mid-30s (and, I will admit, a happy and proud user of the device upon which this play is based), I greatly related to the story and its characters and their struggles and triumphs. It was funny, charming, and an absolute treat to watch. At several points, I was even moved to tears. A wonderful play filled with brilliant performances. Even if you're not in the immediate area, it's very worth the drive to Costa Mesa. But no closed-minded patrons, please.

Don't miss out on seeing In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play) running at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa (Orange County) now through October 17th.

Click here for more information and tickets

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