Christine Reinfort and Lindsay Nelson in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play. Photo by Javier Sotres.
Christine Reinfort and Lindsay Nelson in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play. Photo by Javier Sotres.

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play is a fascinating look at female sexuality at the turn of the century.

Set the late 19th century, just after the mass production of electrical products such as lamps, Dr Givings starts treating women suffering from ‘hysteria’.

Purported to be suffering from ‘hysteria’ out of boredom in their repressed lives and tedium in their bedrooms, Dr Givings performs his cure using a vibrating machine held against the vulva to produce paroxysms, designed to drain excess fluid from the womb. In lay terms, he induces orgasm.

Similar to territory explored in the 1994 film The Road to Wellville, the actualization of women’s satisfaction in Ruhl’s play is set up as a bit of a joke. But while there may be comedy undertones, there is also something very powerful about experiencing great pleasure for the first time.

Director Keltie Forsyth has assembled a cast of young actors who handle the world of manners and repression capably.

Sebastian Kroon once again proves his ability to play a large variety of roles, capturing the stuffy forthright nature of the good doctor. Christine Reinfort was a joy to watch as the always-alert Mrs Dalry, the doctor’s first patient, and Alexis Kellum-Creer was another standout as the always watchful and desirous nurse.

In the Next Room does get a somewhat repetitive as each person experiencing the machine has a similar reaction and outcome. However, in the final moments as Mrs. Giving, stoically played by Lindsay Nelson, makes a move to take some control in her life and pleasure, it all comes together in a beautiful and fulfilling stage picture.

The set by Lauchlin Johnston features a Victorian styled living room and an upper level doctor’s office filled with ominous looking machines.  The costumes by Julie White consist of some exquisite gowns for the women.

Female audience members may find more meaningful inspiration about self-empowerment from this show over the ridiculously shallow musical playing on Granville Island right now.

While it is not a perfect production, its uncommon story makes it very worthwhile.

In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Keltie Forsyth. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. On stage at the Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery St, Vancouver), playing in repertory with A Prayer for Owen Meany and Master Class until August 17. Visit http://ensembletheatrecompany.ca for tickets and information.