‘The Vibrator Play’ Provides Buzzworthy Satisfaction

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Like the women suffering in Sarah Ruhl’s dramatic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, “In the Next Room” is quite hysterical.

Er, maybe not quite in the same way, since the word “hysterical” is loaded with meaning. Well, maybe it is, since the play, also known as “The Vibrator Play,” is packed with double entendres, multiple interpretations and a variety of complex themes. The show, as funny and titillating as it is, is also a playfully scathing rebuke of Victorian-era mores and manners.

Set in the 1880s, during the advent of the electrical age, as well as the introduction of the electronic device initially created to cure hysteria in women (and a few select men), the Tony Award-nominated dramady is charged with content. Seemingly no rock is left unturned by Ms. Ruhl: social standards and relationships; the inequality of the sexes; anatomical ignorance, repression, heartache; and of course, the power of female sexuality, desire and awakening.

Staged at The Bridge black box theater in Bridgehampton by HITFest, and running through Sunday, May 26, this local production is packed with pleasure. The ensemble cast includes Glenn Thomas Cruz as Dr. Givings, Licia James Zegar as Mrs. Givings, Caroline M. Smith as Mrs. Daldry, Joe Brondo as Mr. Daldry, Natasha Murray as Elizabeth, Christian Scheider as Leo Irving and Bonnie Grice as Annie. The show is directed by Joshua Perl and produced by Peter Zablotsky, Eric Butte and Mr. Perl.

Mr. Cruz, as the pioneering doctor driven to curing hysterical/non-child-bearing women, is well cast as the contained man of science. His buttoned-up approach to providing “paroxysms” is appealing, even though his character is as frustrating as stopping “treatment” in the middle of a “cure.” Playing his frustrated and lonely chatterbox of a wife, Ms. James Zegar flits across the stage as a flighty exotic bird, albeit one who cannot divine the means with which to escape her cage. Both characters are necessary anchors for the plot and the emotional life of the play. Well done by Mr. Cruz and Ms. Zegar.

Ms. Smith enters the action as a right proper Victorian woman patient but her “treatments” unleash a power and hunger within her that cannot be tamed. As an actor, she gets better and better with every electrical therapy session. I don’t want to give too much away but expect to be transported to paroxysms of pleasure whenever Ms. Smith (and her fellow patient, Mr. Scheider) is on stage.

As the patient’s concerned and loving (yet clueless) husband, Mr. Brondo doesn’t have as much time on the stage as the others but he plays the gentility well. And as I said to his real-life wife at intermission, the slicked back hair and slight handlebar mustache were perfect touches.

Though her speaking part is not large, Ms. Grice is onstage most of the time, forever changing linens and assisting in the procedures as the spinster nurse. So believable was she that I, for one, had to restrain myself from jumping up and offering her some hand lotion to offset the irritation brought on by all that handling of cloth. Her transformation on this stage is proof that hard work pays off when it comes to acting craft. Bravo Bonnie, keep up the good work.

Ms. Murray, as the black wet nurse, and Mr. Scheider, as the sensitive painter, both hit absolute home runs during their short times onstage. She provides ethos, dignity and superior intellect and beauty (both inside and out). He attacks his character with gusto—from the mellifluous, lilting accent to his artistic hand flourishes—and is absolutely riveting. Both mightily impressed this grizzled reviewer. Multiple ovations.

As for the other important characters, the set was beautiful, cozy and charming and worked brilliantly with the split stage demanded by this play. And the lights and sound, both standalone characters, were illuminating and kept the audience on the edges of their seats. Kudos.

Bottom line: A good drama, with lots of comedic punch, that allows all of its stars to shine brightly.

“In the Next Room” stages at The Bridge at the Bridgehampton Community House on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through May 26. Tickets are $25, and $20 for seniors and students. For reservations, visit nextroom.eventbrite.com or call 525-2995. For additional information, visit hitfest.org.

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