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Everyone's buzzing about The Vibrator Play

posted by Terence Keane on Fri, Feb 6, 2009
in Our shows

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GoodVibrations

All of us at Berkeley Rep have been working crazy hours getting ready for our 50th world premiere: In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). Earlier this week it felt like we'd drained our batteries, but now that the show's open we feel completely recharged... because everyone's buzzing about this great new play.

(Sorry. It's really hard to resist the countless giggly puns that this show presents. At intermission on opening night, at least four different people told me with a wink that they couldn't wait for the play's climax.)

Below are the reviews that came out this morning. Do you agree with the critics? Do you think they're faking it? If you've seen the show, post a comment below and let us know how you feel. If you haven't been In the Next Room yet, get a ticket and plug into the conversation!

  • "Breathtakingly inventive… has the potential to be a modern masterpiece... Directed by Les Waters in a manner that quietly and vividly serves the writing, the play is at its best when it disregards the dramatic rules altogether. There's an acute playfulness at work, an unabashed enjoyment in letting characters test out new possibilities for themselves as they gain insight into the mind-body phenomenon of human sexuality and the oppressive forces that shape its expression." – Los Angeles Times
  • "A fascinating, funny and evocative play... It's beautiful. Like most of the play, the end vibrates with sexually charged comedy and affectionate striving... Ruhl develops the story with the enticing blend of irreverent humor and skewed realism familiar from her breakthrough The Clean House and bicoastal success with Eurydice." – San Francisco Chronicle
  • "You'll get a charge out of Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Vibrator Play... a wickedly funny production with some poignancy and moments of peace in the ongoing battle of the sexes. For a new work, Next Room is remarkably well-developed, with crackling dialogue and an engaging story that moves audience both to laughter and tears... Les Waters has directed the show masterfully, creating some wild moments of physical humor and an energy to the unfolding story that refuses to let things lag. And the cast is simply phenomenal -- skilled and talented actors who manage to find a charming middle ground in the complex area between comedy and poignancy." – Contra Costa Times
  • "A titillating comedy of manners, marriage and masturbation that more than lives up to its buzz... From orgasms and breast-feeding to lesbianism, Ruhl disentangles the web of taboos that laced up Victorian ladies as tightly as their whalebone corsets... The last time Ruhl teamed with director Les Waters, she was an emerging artist. Now she's one of the hottest playwrights around, a Pulitzer nominee and MacArthur 'genius' letting her imagination run wild in a juicy discourse about the politics of desire." – San Jose Mercury News
  • "In the Next Room is an incredibly clean and literary play. It revels in transparent metaphors: the many electrical lamps which represent Dr. Givings' fetish for technology (several times in the play he delivers lectures on the wonders of electricity while masturbating his patients); the wet nurse who becomes both an artistic muse and a Madonna figure; the confining zippers, buttons, and ruffled layers that characterize Victorian clothing; and funniest of all, the heavy rain -- and later, snow -- that parallels a series of ecstatic female ejaculations. Such analogies might seem campy had Ruhl tried to make the play pornographic, but given the historical context -- Victorian mores running up against progress and modernity -- it's appropriate that the characters resort to sublimated language and innuendo... But all that happens in the midst of a gentle, sweet, traditional comedy. You see the word 'vibrator' in the title, and you think one thing. Then it turns out to be something else.” – East Bay Express
  • "It's a sexual farce that cleverly concerns the romance, loneliness, intimacy, race relations and electricity of six people... The cast of seven excellent actors has a great sense for comedy, plus -- near the end of the play -- a sudden change to serious emotion. I thoroughly enjoyed this play's new dimension with Ruhl's superb writing. It's brilliantly directed by Les Waters and has wonderful lighting, sound and costumes, and a remarkable set. In the world of theatre, this is truly an enjoyable change of pace.” – KGO>

And by the way, as if a night with Dr. Givings isn't satisfying enough, we're thrilled that our journey through 1,001 nights with Mary Zimmerman continues. Our production of The Arabian Nights just opened the first stop on its tour, and the Kansas City Star gave it a rave review:

  • "I need to expand my vocabulary. I need new ways of saying a show is exceptional, unique and an example of the highest level of professionalism a theatergoer can expect to see in Kansas City -- or anywhere... The playwright/director gives us a show that is visually mesmerizing, sexy, witty, outrageously comic and, at times, deeply melancholic. More than that, it’s a vivid example of what I choose to call 'pure theater.' It stimulates the imagination in surprising ways with the most basic of theatrical tools -- human beings, a few hand props, judiciously employed musical instruments and atmospheric lighting. All theater is high-tech anymore, but this show embraces a low-tech performance aesthetic that pays big dividends... There’s much wisdom in The Arabian Nights and much humor. This is a brainy show that embraces very low comedy at times. I dare you not to laugh out loud."

The Arabian Nights sold out its run while it was in Berkeley. Don't wait too long to get seats for The Vibrator Play or you'll be sitting home alone, left to your own -- um -- devices. And if you've seen it already, all I can say is...

Please Come Again.

Photo of Maria Dizzia and Hannah Cabell
courtesy of kevinberne.com

Comments:

I saw the show on Sunday, Feb 15. I found it entertaining, stimulating, thought-provoking, educational, funny, and extremely well written and well acted. One thing bothered me at the end, for which I would like an interpretation, as I haven't developed a satisfactory one on my own.

Why, at the end, was the husband nude and the wife only partially undressed? Before the action, she demands of him, "Undress me!" He complies, but only partially. Then she says, "And now, I'll undress you!" And she undresses him, completely.

I see this ending as both a renewal of their relationship and a begininning of a universally healthy attitude toward sex. The text would seem to imply that they should both be nude, starting over from scratch as it were.

So, why only a male nude? Was this the author's choice, or the director's, or the actresses?

I'd love to hear a cogent interpretation, as I don't have one.

Steve Lowens

Steve Lowens | Mon, Feb 16, 2009


You know, a lot of people have been asking that. The short answer is that it is quite definitely the playwright's choice. Sarah's script is quite specific on this point. The one-line stage direction reads: "He undresses her, partially."

Further down, after some further dialogue between them, it simply says, "She undresses him." And then after a few more lines, these longer, more poetic stage directions follow:

He is naked.
We don’t need to see all of his body,
it is dark out--
but we do see the moon glowing off his skin.
She has never seen him naked before--
she has only seen him under the covers.

So I suppose you could argue that the manner in which Dr. Givings appears in this final scene is a directorial choice. I suspect this is why there is only a brief moment of frontal nudity, to try to capture the sense that he is nude but to preserve the sense of mystery that resides in Sarah's poetry.

What the deeper interpretation of all of this is, well, your opinion is as good as mine. And I suppose that's the point.

Terence Keane | Thu, Feb 19, 2009


I too was a bit puzzled by the ending. It was definitely shocking to see the man in full frontal nudity, and puzzling for the wife to not share this vulnerability with him. At the same time I can see the husband's shyness stopping him from undressing her completely because that is what he is comfortable with. She on the other hand is more sexually curious and as a result strips him down completely. Perhaps Sarah is highlighting this somewhat awkward moment that the couple are having and that will supposedly dissipate as they explore each others sexuality.

However, I think it might have been better if the play actually silhouetted the husband as Sarah's directions call for. It would have been a bit less provocative and allow my imagination work a bit. However, perhaps the director's approach is more inline with the reaction Sarah actually wanted for the audience, to be consumed by discomfort and vulnerability similar to that of the husband in this scene.

Kofi Inkabi | Thu, Feb 26, 2009


For anyone else who is wondering about why Dr. Givings is stripped completely naked in the end, I just posted video from the post-show discussion, in which our literary manager and Paul Niebanck (the actor who plays Dr. Givings) give their thoughts on the subject.

Pauline Luppert | Thu, Feb 26, 2009


Saw this play a year back and it was a little bit of a shock at the time. But I did enjoy the cleaver weaving of the themes and I pretty much see anything that is Victorian era.

Kathy J | Tue, Mar 1, 2011


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