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Colonial Players’ In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play

Interesting. Very interesting.

In stereotype, the Victorian era is dark and overbearing, peopled with prudish and stodgy citizens. That stereotype gives the required context for Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play. The assumption is that the doctor — providing relief for hysteria by using a vibrator on his patients, female and male — is both innovative for Victorian sensibilities and naïve of mental and physical health concerns as we understand them today.
    Directed by Carol Youmans, who admits to the boldness of this theatrical choice, In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play may prove a tad too intimate for some, especially in this already-intimate theater in the round.
    As the self-absorbed Dr. Givings treats his hysteria patients as described above, his wife, the new mother, Catherine, is equally self-absorbed in her inability to breast-feed her newborn.

Sunday,
May 12

  Informational Forum following the matinee with cast and crew discussing the production and the research and preparation that went into it.

  In honor of Mother’s Day, tea and cookies will be served at intermission.

    Also coming to Dr. Givings for treatments are Mrs. Daldry, brought by Mr. Daldry; and artist Leo Irving. Nurse Annie assists the doctor, and Elizabeth is the wet nurse who comes in to assist Catherine. As the characters interact, various emotional pairings occur but ultimately this is to be the story of how Catherine learns to connect with her husband in a more meaningful way.
    Dr. Givings is portrayed by Ben Carr, a versatile actor who has previously given nuanced performances in Stones in His Pocket and The Diviners. However, this is not his best dance. His Dr. Givings is prim and proper, lacking passion for his innovations, his patients, his family or his work. It is hard to see why Catherine loves him.
    Lelia Tahaburt does a convincing job as the lonely wife and post-partum mother, who grows curious as to whether her husband’s treatments could help her and becomes quite giddy when they do.
     Erin Leigh Hill’s Mrs. Daldry is the spark of the show. With amazing comedic timing, she provides the energy and playfulness to liven up the proceedings as she comes in for treatment after treatment and loses her downtrodden demeanor.
    Shirley Panek is amazingly able to portray a full range of emotions while maintaining a proper, formal veneer as she takes Annie from a sideline character, almost unobserved, to an interesting, critical character.
    Newcomer Paul Valleau as Leo Irving is another bright spark as the artist who has lost his inspiration and ability to paint. Valleau creates a charming character, although his falling for one of the characters has to be stated, as it isn’t immediately evident.
    Another newcomer, Aricia Skidmore-Williams plays the wet-nurse, Elizabeth. Mr. Daldry is played by Mark T. Allen.
    Set designer Edd Miller amazingly manages to get two distinct rooms on a small set, and Julie Bays created elaborate Victorian costumes that can be quickly taken on and off while on stage.
    This is challenging theatre: It challenges the audience’s conventions and expectations, yet not the
characters’.
    It was interesting. But in this case, once is enough.

Director: Carol Youmans. Producer: Terry Averill. Stage manager: Tom Stuckey. Set designer: Edd Miller. Costume designer: Julie Bays. Sound designer: Andy Serb. Lighting designer: Jennifer Dustin. Props: Connie Robinson.
Showing thru May 18. FSa 8pm; Su 2pm at 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.