Berkeley Rep Blog

February 2009

Why's he naked?

posted by Pauline Luppert on Thu, Feb 26

A few folks on the blog have questioned/commented about why Dr. Givings is naked in the final scene of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). We have some answers. Conveniently enough, an audience member who participated in the post-show discussion on February 12 asked Literary Manager Madeleine Oldham and actor Paul Niebanck to shed some light on the subject. Here's what they said. . .

I plan to post more answers here in the coming week.

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Anatomy of a show poster: In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)

posted by Cheshire Isaacs on Tue, Feb 24

This is one in an occasional series of how a poster for a show comes together. Click on the images below to see larger versions.

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) was originally titled simply The Vibrator Play. As a graphic designer, I love short play titles; if every play title were simply one word, that would be just fine by me. When I heard the original title of the play back when the season was coming together and before I'd read the script, I anticipated doing something really risqué, which I was looking forward to.

Then I heard the play title had been changed -- what a disappointment. Not only was the title now much longer, making it more difficult to design around, but it had relegated the most exciting word to a parenthetical afterthought.

DoorAnd then I actually read the play and understood why the playwright, Sarah Ruhl, had insisted on changing the title. Yes, the advent of the vibrator is at the center of the story, but the play is about so much more than that. To focus just on the vibrator in the title would have obscured the heart of the play.

For the poster, director Les Waters and I decided to focus on Mrs. Givings and her intense desire to find out just what is "in the next room." After a false start, we settled on the idea of a surprised eye looking through a keyhole. We also wanted to give the viewer a clear sense of the Victorian era in which the play is set, so we couldn't use just any door and keyhole.

Off we went to Ohmega Salvage in West Berkeley, purveyor of antique doors, doorknobs, windows, bathtubs, furniture, and so much more. We looked through dozens of doorplate sets and doors and finally chose our favorite of each. The generous staff of Ohmega allowed us to install the doorplate on the door and shoot it right there. The original image is above right.

As you can see, we didn't find a door that had had the same style doorplate, so there isn't a keyhole where there should be one, and there's a big hole where there shouldn't be one. Furthermore, there's no bottom screw, which looks odd (there's no top screw either, but that's obscured by the knob). Finally, there's a bunch of what looks like dried glue in the doorplate's crevices. Time for a little Photoshopping...

Dooradjust1Dooradjust2

Oh yeah, that eyeball. As I mentioned in my post about the making of the poster for The Arabian Nights, at the time we create art for our shows we usually don't have cast members in town, so I need to find my models some other way, and often I look no farther than the office. Such was the case here. We wanted someone with bright blue eyes, so that the eye would jump out against the brown background.

MargoThat someone turned out to be Margo Chilless, Berkeley Rep's special events manager and organizer of the final Narsai Toast coming up in April (tickets available now!). Margo and I went outside our office on Center Street and shot approximately 50 photos while the cabdrivers looked on, amused. The image to the right was the one we chose.

Tabasco Then there was the matter of the show logo. This turned out to be more fun than I thought it would be, given my dislike of long show titles. For inspiration I turned to Victorian advertisements, famous for their ornate typesetting and distinctive style of drop shadows. A prime example is at right.

To choose the typeface I went immediately to Letterhead Fonts, which specializes in revivals of classic signage hand-lettering. Their Mackinlay fit the bill perfectly. (They have a beautiful website -- you should really check it out.) After that it was just a matter of arcing the words and creating that shadow (which is more technical than I'll get into here -- just know that it's not the easiest thing in the world to do correctly). Below is the result.

Logo

Finally it was time to put it all together. After adjusting the logo to appear on a dark background, I put it together with the image, and we had our poster, which you can see below.

Poster

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More from the pacifist...

posted by prop shop on Fri, Feb 20

Today Steve Tolin came to town to do the initial head casts of two of the company members for Lieutenant of Inishmore. He definitely lived up to his reputation, and I'm excited to be working with him on this show. The sheer number of times he's done this production and his enthusiasm to make each one an improvement upon the last, is inspiring. Luckily we were having a slow enough day that the crew got a chance to watch his process on the first actor. I thought I'd share these images with you. (Click each image for a larger version.)

AH 014 This is the first step using Alginate, which is what dentists use to do teeth impressions.  Note the actor's mouth is open for extra excitement.

AH 031After making a mother mold around the alginate, the actor is freed.

AH 039 Here, Steve preps the cast for travel back to his studio. He's filled it with clay and armature, but will do the final mold and latex head, including painting, gunshots, and hair.

This was far more fun than ordering guns, which I'm still working on...

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Vibrating with the Times

posted by Terence Keane on Wed, Feb 18

I love the smell of newsprint in the morning... especially when it means we're in the New York Times. On the front page of today's arts section, there's a lovely review by Charles Isherwood of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). And there's an amusing (and enormous) photo of Maria and Hannah that grabs your eye when the story jumps to the back page.

What does this mean to us? Naturally, we're pleased, proud, and appreciative of the attention. What does this mean for you? If you haven't already bought tickets, you might want to get with the Times.

Here's the review in its entirety...

February 18, 2009

THEATER REVIEW | 'IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY)'

A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged

By CHARLES ISHERWOOD

IntheNextRoomBERKELEY, Calif. — The contraption looks rather quaint, a small wooden box with a few knobs set on a tall, rolling metal platform. A thin tube with a porcelain doodad on the end protrudes from it.

“It looks like a farming implement,” one baffled character says as she considers the machine for the first time. It would add a contrasting note of the rustic and antique to a living room furnished in sleek modern pieces.

In fact this odd mechanical box is a central player — the title character, you might say — in the new play by Sarah Ruhl, “In the Next Room (or the vibrator play).” A fanciful but compassionate consideration of the treatment, and the mistreatment, of women in the late 19th century, this spirited and stimulating (sorry) new comedy from one of the country’s brightest young playwrights is having its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theater here, in a handsome production directed by Les Waters.

The play is set in a spa town in the vicinity of New York in the late 1800s. Electricity has just begun to spread its mysterious glow in the homes of the well-to-do. It has recently been installed in the parlor of Dr. and Mrs. Givings, and more significantly in the room next door, the doctor’s “operating theater,” where he practices gynecology and the treatment of “hysteria” using that strange electric-powered box.

A new patient, Sabrina Daldry (Maria Dizzia), is suffering from symptoms that alarm her husband (John Leonard Thompson). She is sensitive to light and prone to tears. Referring obliquely to the cooling of the marital fires, and perhaps the real reason for his dissatisfaction, Mr. Daldry adds, “I am afraid there is very little sympathy between us.”

The forthright and self-confident Dr. Givings (Paul Niebanck) sends Mr. Daldry for a short walk while he begins treatment. “We need to relieve the pressure on her nerves,” he says reassuringly. “You will soon have your blooming wife back.”

Enter the magic box. While Sabrina lies supine on a table, her skirts removed and a white sheet placed decorously over her, Dr. Givings makes businesslike small talk while using his new machine to induce a “paroxysm,” the slightly alarming term for what would today be called something else entirely, and is generally considered more recreational than therapeutic.

Sabrina emerges from her first session feeling drowsy and emotional, but rather good. The roses have been restored to her cheeks, and she is not disinclined to return for another session. Tomorrow would be just fine.

Comical though the play’s depiction of Dr. Givings’s methods might seem, it is based on historical fact. The use of primitive vibrators to treat women (and some men) suffering from a variety of psychological ailments referred to as hysteria is well documented. But Ms. Ruhl’s play is hardly intended as an elaborate dirty joke at the expense of the medical profession. Her real subject is the fundamental absence of sympathy and understanding between women and the men whose rules they had to live by for so long, and the suspicion and fear surrounding female sexuality and even female fertility.

For while Dr. Givings, assisted in no small measure by his stalwart female assistant, Annie (Stacy Ross), is pursuing a remarkably successful treatment of Sabrina, his own wife, the candid Catherine (Hannah Cabell), is beginning to languish from loneliness and unhappiness in the parlor next door.

Catherine has recently given birth, but Dr. Givings has decided that her milk is not sufficient for nursing, so a wet nurse must be found. Sabrina’s black housekeeper, Elizabeth (Melle Powers), who recently lost a baby, is given the job, but Catherine feels as if her maternal instincts have been thwarted and denied.

Bored and frustrated, she becomes increasingly curious about what goes on in the room next door, not least because those confused cries of excitement are hard to tune out. In the delightful scene that concludes the first act, Catherine unlocks the door to the operating theater with Sabrina’s hat pin and the two women engage in a liberating session of self-administered therapy, without benefit of prescription or medical supervision.

Ms. Ruhl, the author of “The Clean House,” “Eurydice” and “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” has not abandoned her affection for unexpected leaps or lyrical language here, although with its traditional construction, old-fashioned set (charmingly realized by Annie Smart) and lavish period costumes (by David Zinn), “In the Next Room” looks almost as if it could be a revival of Shaw or Wilde. (Mr. Zinn’s exquisite dresses are period-appropriate but witty too in their superabundance of buttons and bustles and gatherings that constrict or obscure the natural female form.)

Ms. Ruhl’s characters always exist both on a poetic plane and a flesh-and-blood one, and while the people in the new play speak formal English suitable to the period and the social milieu, they also drift into imagistic reveries that would lead to confused pauses over tea service in real life.

Nor has Ms. Ruhl abandoned her gentle impressionistic touch and her gift for playful symbolism. The play is dappled with images of lightness and darkness, moisture and its absence, that underscore its themes. (There is a single truly vulgar joke, overplayed in this staging, when the sounds of ecstasy in the doctor’s office coincide with Catherine’s arriving late to answer the door in the parlor, calling out what one would quite naturally call out.)

The play’s second act has some structural infelicities. Elizabeth has two lumpy speeches about black-white relations that seem an unnecessary attempt to give this subsidiary character a more central role. (I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of having her enlighten Sabrina and Catherine about the possibility of experiencing the sensations they’ve awakened to with the machine in bed with their husbands.) Ms. Ruhl mostly weaves together the multiple strands of her plot, which includes the arrival of a male patient, a frustrated artist, with dexterity. But there is too much of it, and it becomes clotted in the unraveling.

The cast is mostly fine, with a few standouts. Ms. Dizzia (seen in “Eurydice” in New York) brings to the role of Sabrina a touching hesitancy that slowly blooms into confidence as Sabrina finds herself liberated, not so much by the doctor’s treatment as by the emotions it arouses. Mr. Niebanck’s abstracted expression as he briskly goes about his work is hilarious. And Ms. Ross imbues the smallish role of Annie with a fully human dimension, a sympathy and intuitive wisdom about her work that is affecting.

Although the doctor’s magic box has a liberating effect on Sabrina and Catherine, all the women in the play are ultimately transformed by their interactions with each other. And in the final scene the process is extended to include the doctor himself, as Catherine administers some therapy of her own to her husband. A woman who has never been allowed to listen to the music of her own body teaches her husband to discover the beauty in his own.

IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY)

By Sarah Ruhl; directed by Les Waters; sets by Annie Smart; costumes by David Zinn; lighting by Russell H. Champa; sound by Bray Poor; music by Jonathan Bell; production stage manager, Michael Suenkel. Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theater, at the Berkeley Rep Roda Theater, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, Calif.; (510) 647-2949. Through March 15. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

WITH: Hannah Cabell (Catherine Givings), Joaquin Torres (Leo Irving), Maria Dizzia (Sabrina Daldry), Paul Niebanck (Dr. Givings), Melle Powers (Elizabeth), Stacy Ross (Annie) and John Leonard Thompson (Mr. Daldry).

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

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Episode #3 -- In Which We Share the Show With the General Public...

posted by Stacy Ross on Tue, Feb 17

Dressing

well --

we rehearsed
we previewed
we opened.

previews included the excitement of having Sarah back in town --
and small tweaks (and occasionally the addition of a whole monologue) in the script,
as well as the usual additions of costume, lights, and sound:
creative elements that help create the world,
but also add the necessary strictures of timing and spacing for an actor
(not that we don't have very certain ideas of both while rehearsing,
but getting into the actual space, time, sound and feel of the thing as a whole always demands adjustments --
and patience...on everyone's part...).

"do i turn the light off here?"

"how long is this piece of music?"

"which door did you want me to go out of?"

"you can't HEAR me?"
(there is a very specific distress in being told you're just not loud enough, when you've been sure that's the least of your worries...)

okay, and that's the usual stuff --
every tech rehearsal/production holds some mixture of the aforementioned --
but then there are the curveballs...

maria plays the piano!
and has paroxysms...

paul gives paroxysms...

and joaquín gets - - -

well if ya haven't seen the play, i really should let you see for yourself.


so, sometimes productions have that little extra something
that you're sure you can handle,
but still gives you that slightly (or hugely) abnormal hurdle
that you have to negotiate -- 
first in rehearsal
then in tech
next, with the first audience (usually first preview)
once more on opening, just because you know it's going to be in print,
and then...
and then each and every performance.

this play affords me the unusual -- and oddly stressful, at first -- opportunity
to help my fellow actors in, and as often, OUT of their clothing --
which has to happen in a particular span of time -- not too soon
and definitely not too late in the getting-them-clothed-again part --
they've got to get into the next room to continue the story.

as any parent will tell you,
being responsible for getting another person to a certain place at a certain time
is, at times, weighty...
but in this case, with practice, very do-able
and very communicative, one actor to another,
as much as speaking to each other -- though we don't --
and so the character-relationship grows in a way that the actors can certainly gauge...
but does the audience get that?

i dunno --

SHOULD they?

you tell me. :-)


Photo: Me (on the right), dressing Maria.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

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But I'm a pacifist...

posted by prop shop on Fri, Feb 13

You know that precious few minutes of sleep you get when you hit snooze or set the alarm for another half an hour before going to work...ahh...  And do you know when it goes horribly wrong and you have a mini-nightmare, only to wake up ten minutes later wondering why didn't you just wake up when you were supposed to...??  Now you haven't gone to the gym and are stressed out before the day has even begun...  Well that happened to me on the morning we opened In the Next Room.  No, I wasn't having anxiety dreams about vibrators (or nice snoozy dreams either!) 

In fact, I had already mentally moved on beyond all the hard work that went into producing that show, and beyond the show presently in rehearsal, Crime and Punishment, which, although it caused me to suffer as a teenager (in the way that good books draw you into a different mental state while you read them), was not causing me to loose sleep yet, ax murder aside. 

I was dreaming, quite elaborately, about buying guns for The Lieutenant of Inishmore

 

Slr 466

So I decided it was time for me to really focus on acquiring these guns. I forced myself to spend the better part of the day researching and reading through all the information I had on the guns for this show (after a last-minute vibrator repair, of course).   

I've actually always tried to be as hands off as possible when it comes to stage weapons. Inevitably, I have to get them, but I leave it to the fight directors and backstage crew to deal with handling them. I don't like guns, real or fake, and I admit, I'm not excited about doing a show that is all about guns and blood. That said, I have known since this summer that I would have to suck it up and get in gear for this show (that is to say, I had no choice). I had half-heartedly started this process then, but not with the focus I needed to spend to get over my mental block against dealing with the weapons.  

I've talked a number of times to Jim Guy at Milwaukee Rep, who in the theater prop world is the Prop Weapons Guru. I think I talk to/email with him every time I use a weapon on stage. He's awesome and incredibly knowledgeable--and one of those guys who is a natural teacher and a great storyteller (so, fun to chat up anyway). So of course, this summer at S*P*A*M*, the annual prop masters conference (yes, we have a conference too, which maybe I've mentioned in previous blog posts?), I chatted him up, as well as a lot of my counterparts around the country who have worked on other versions of this show, and whom all had great advice

Everyone had something to say about the process and had information to email me. Props people are really giving, interesting, creative, and intelligent folks (which makes me sometimes wonder how I've stayed in this business so long...?). Nathan at The Alley was super-helpful and entertaining. And Kelly at St.Louis Rep was amazing. She was budgeting the show at the time and had all her paperwork with her to work on in the spare moments we weren't conferencing. St. Louis Rep did the show a few months ago, and I was able to go see their version. She arranged for me to watch the show from the audience and also from backstage. I took pages of notes and hundreds of pictures. And, most importantly, my fear of blood and guns had been mildly relieved. What I thought to be the impossible can actually be staged live. 

I also came back with a glowing review of Steve Tolin, the special-effects person they hired (and whom we will, thankfully, be using even though we could do this in-house--there is so much to do, and he has his process down to a science). Les Waters, who will be directing our version, also went to see the show at St. Louis, and Tom, our production manager, had already seen The Alley's production and taken pictures as well.  So we all knew what craziness we are getting ourselves into....

I then spent a few months getting caught up in all of the giant, prop-heavy shows we have been putting on here at Berkeley Rep...until the morning of the opening of In the Next Room, when I realized that I do indeed have to actually acquire weapons for our production. My dream didn't include background checks or firearms permits which we do have to get, even to use fake weapons. 

"Fake" guns have been re-manufactured only to take "blank" charges--fake bullets, but still incredibly loud and potentially damaging at close range: the "charge" shoots out of the top, not the barrel. So there is still a fair amount of caution to take when handling and shooting these guns, and I don't take this lightly at all.  I've actually spend a lot of mental energy on this since the summer.  I have been reading up on gun safety while waiting in line at the permit office and in various airports. 

Obviously, I'm in favor of gun-control laws even if it means we have to take a few weeks to get these permits and jump through various hoops to rent the guns we need. I am trying to get the most reliable, safest ones possible. Even with the permits and special procedures, there are always terrible news stories about freak theatre or film accidents that have happened which other prop people share with our group email list. I read these even though I don't want to. Knowledge is important, but sensationalism isn't what I'm after. And if you are one of those like to watch the train wreck sorts, I'm sure you could find all these awful stories on-line, but I won't link to them here.   

These stories fill me with dread that people can actually get seriously hurt playing with guns even if they are fake. Theatre is not worth dying, or even being injured for--it s the worst thing that could possibly happen, and why I'm terrified of the responsibility of even renting prop guns. I have wanted to avoid having our theater actually own fireable guns. I won't even get into all the bad things that can happen if the weapons aren't properly locked up...But today I ordered half the guns and continued on the process of renting the other half, though that is the harder, permit-requiring part. And, I'm sure the show will be just great.

I much prefer prop dead bodies to live ammo. I'm looking forward to meeting Steve in person when he comes in next week to do the life casting of a few of the actors, which you know I will definitely be blogging about, so stay tuned...

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Night/OUT! had a blast!!!

posted by Joan Anderson on Thu, Feb 12

John and joanie

If these pictures are not enough to demonstrate all the fun and excitment that was had at Berkeley Rep's night/OUT party for our LGBT friends, I will try and explain.

Drinks + Free Food + Pumping Music = Awesome.

The evening started off with DJ rrrus spinning great music as patrons flowed into the upper Roda lobby where they were met by a bountiful and tasty spread courtesy of Bistro Liaison. As the night and music carried on, people mingled with one another, and the ladies of Twilight Vixen Revue took over the lobby to perform scintilating (and sexy) burlesque dance numbers for the the happy crowd.

Twilight Vixen Revue

To sum up the evening, it was a blast and a great time all around. Were you there? What did you think--about the show or the party?

Mark your calendars -- the next night/OUT is Thursday, April 24 for Lieutenant of Inishmore. Hope to see you there.

a group talking below the disco ball 

Photos courtesy of Cheshire Isaacs
Top photo -- patron services manager, John Gay, and me
Middle photo -- The ladies of Twilight Vixen Review
Bottom photo -- theatre fans chat about the show beneath the night/OUT disco ball

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Contact your Senators!

posted by Susie Medak on Tue, Feb 10

President Obama proposed including $50 million for the arts in the stimulus package and, once again, the culture wars are upon us. Our senators have defeated efforts to support the arts. Now is our last chance to fight to include artists among the people who can be put to work as part of stimulating our economy. It is also the final opportunity to remove the onerous amendment that would prohibit arts organizations from receiving the benefits of any stimulus money... be it NEA funds, environmental funds, capital improvements funds, education funds, etc.

Click here to take action: http://theperformingartsalliance.org/campaign/SupporttheArtsintheEconomicStimulusBill/65b56x947iwtxm3.

And, in case you're interested, here are some more of my thoughts on this topic:

Since when are artists not workers? During the Great Depression, artists of every persuasion were employed by the government... actors, directors, writers, painters, and musicians were all eligible for subsidized work. And the result was that some of the most important artists of the 20th century were given the chance, early in their careers, to hone their skills. Authors like Saul Bellow and directors like Orson Welles, to name only two, were fed by the WPA. And our post offices and schools are embellished with the work of sculptors and painters like Diego Rivera who immortalized that period through their unique sensibilities.

In the late '60s or early '70s, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was open to artists and arts organizations along with every other industry in the country. The result of that initiative is the hundreds (if not thousands) of arts organizations that have enriched our communities throughout the last 40 years. There is a great tradition in this country of recognizing that artists have real, substantial value and that they contribute to a societal good. They contribute to the common good. They should be entitled to all the same benefits as the rest of our American workforce.

As for infrastructure, we have already submitted to the City of Berkeley a list of shovel-ready projects that we’d like to see included for consideration, should our city receive stimulus money. We’ve taken the position that our ability to spend money for physical improvements has as much validity as does programs for the City pound, street improvements, local housing projects, or university expansion. Our ability to impact the viability of the area’s restaurants and shops is well documented. Our impact within the schools is unparalleled in the state. And artists, just like every construction worker, pay taxes, purchase groceries, and pour money into the local economy.

I came across this opinion piece in the Boston Globe last week. It is specifically about Brandeis University's decision to sell its art collection, but at some level it speaks to this issue of why we must support art and artists. You can read it at http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/02/05/why_should_we_care_about_the_arts/.

Please join us in supporting the arts as an essential part of the American economy.

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Box Office Brain Freeze

posted by Elana McKernan on Mon, Feb 9

Unfortunately, I am not referring to the painful overindulgence that causes milkshake-hungry children to furrow their brows and hop up and down in pain. No; our flavor of ice cream is much less delicious, and much more embarrassing than the traditional chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry. I call it the "box office brain freeze" and it comes in one flavor only: shame.

While its symptoms are sometimes identical to a more traditional brain freeze (scowls, extended periods of silence, incomprehensible noises, etc.), the box office brain freeze is a thing unto itself. 

We don't like to admit it, the proud box office creatures that we are, but sometimes our brains simply fail us. Perhaps this happens to everyone, but since we are talking to patrons 24/7 we are less able to hide our premature senility. If you are ever on the phone with one of us during such an episode, I sincerely apologize. The first step in addressing a problem is identifying it. Common symptoms of the box office brain freeze are:

1. Slow reaction time. Does your box office representative sound distant? Is he or she speaking at an abnormally slow tempo? Perhaps he or she just came back from a  relaxing yoga session. To determine if this is the case, make a casual mention of a "downward facing dog." If your box office rep. responds with a "yeah, man" (other telling responses are a good-natured chuckle accompanied by a "right on," a mention of the lotus pose, or the sound of a nodding head), then he or she is likely a yoga master trying to bring zen to the world of ticket exchanges. Proceed with patience. Perhaps the zen will rub off on you! If your reference is met with more silence, proceed to number two. *In mild cases of box office brain freeze, the mere mention of a downward facing dog may shock said box office rep. into full cognitive abilities.

2. Prolonged periods of silence. Before we jump to any conclusions here, please check your phone connection. Are you using a cell phone? If so, are you standing in a tunnel or cave? Are you in the woods? Are you in a BART car? The French countryside? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, please hang up the phone and call us when standing outside in a populated area. Are you using a land line? If so, do you have any small pets that might have chewed through and/or peed on your phone jack? If so, please hang up the phone and bunny-proof your house. Good. Now that you have secured your method of communication, are your questions met with resounding silence? Proceed to number three.

3. Does your sales representative make comments that are completely unrelated to the question you may or may not have asked? This could point to an obscure form of the brain freeze in which every part of the mind is frozen except for that which triggers the speech function. The symptoms often resemble the previously discussed "Word Jumble."  However, the Word Jumble is much less extreme than the Box Office brain freeze and is almost immediately identified by the sales representative (and duly apologized for). 

Though commonly mistaken for apathy or us simply not paying attention, the Box Office brain freeze is really quite innocuous. We don't mean to ignore you; our brains give us no other choice. The best remedy for the Box Office brain freeze is patience and plenty of good humor. We box office folk have no trouble laughing at ourselves. In fact, it tends to be the quickest way of thawing our addled minds.

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Everyone's buzzing about The Vibrator Play

posted by Terence Keane on Fri, Feb 6

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

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