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The Vibrator Play

Southern Rep opens its season with Sarah Ruhl's In the Other Room

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In the Other Room (or the Vibrator Play)

8 p.m. Wed. (Preview), Fri. (Sponsored by Mystic Krewe of Satyricon, call 525-4498) and Sat. (opening Night); 3 p.m. Sun.; through Sept. 26

Southern Rep, The shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., 522-6545; www.southernrep.com

Tickets $24-$35, $20 previews, $85 opening night

Mrs. Daldry (Lucy Faust) and Mrs. Givings (Katherine McClain) are hysterical in The Vibrator Play. - PHOTO BY JOHN BARROIS
  • Photo by John Barrois
  • Mrs. Daldry (Lucy Faust) and Mrs. Givings (Katherine McClain) are hysterical in The Vibrator Play.

The cast of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) is rehearsing for the first time with their improvised antique vibrator. Designed to look like a new invention of the Victorian era, it features a heavy apparatus sitting on the floor rattling and whirring. A separate box with a large control knob is mounted next to a physician's table. Wires and tubes connect the two components, and there's a long extension with an elaborate nozzle-like fixture. Dr. Givings is applying a new "electro therapy" treatment to Sabrina Daldry for a form of hysteria, an actual bit of medical quackery practiced in the late 1800s. The rest of the cast and crew grin as Givings concentrates intently, and eventually, just over the rattling, Daldry manages a breathy "Ohhh."

  "Your first 'Ohhh' should be louder," says director Aimée Hayes. "And it should have a little bit of a question mark at the end."

  The humor is farcical, but the play probes the timeless struggles of men and women to find real intimacy in spite of the latest gadgets and modern attitudes. The piece debuted at Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2009 before going to New York City, and it opens Southern Rep's season.

  Ruhl's work is not new to Southern Rep. It staged her offbeat, Pulitzer-nominated The Clean House in 2008. A MacArthur Fellowship winner, Ruhl has a gift for language that is both immediate and whimsically grand. As one man in the Vibrator Play stammers after inadvertently suggesting he has sex with prostitutes, "Without love ... the act is just meat and bones. Meat and bones and levers and technicalities."

  Setting the play in the Victorian era, complete with bustles and top hats, invokes that period's sexual ambivalence, but it was also a time of social and technological progress. Dr. Givings is skilled with his gadget and new form of therapy, but his marriage is cold and clinical, partly because he reduces his wife's emotional needs to physical symptoms. She wants him to care in a more personal way.

  "It's love and grief," Hayes says about the play and the new season. "I like romantic stories that engage our hearts and minds."

  The 2010-11 season is full of engaging material about all sorts of subjects. Since June, Southern Rep has handled scheduling at Le Chat Noir and hosts a Wednesday series there with alternating programs of new, short plays, slams and the serialized show Debauchery. The theater also is working with the National New Play Network, a nationwide development organization involving 26 theaters. In October, Southern Rep will stage the world premiere of Steve Yockey's Afterlife: A Ghost Story as part of the network's support of new writers. Managing director Marieke Gabourey, a relatively new face at the theater, is helping build relationships so plays can go from New Orleans to New York.

  "We are having both a local and a national conversation," Hayes says. "It's getting to the point the national theater community knows us better than New Orleans."

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