In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play -- Theater Review

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Nearly throughout press night at Sarah Ruhl's new Tony-nominated farce, women onstage and in the audience moaned audibly with sexual and moral pleasure, groaned with the weight of experience in sisterly support and sounded more determined than ever to, if not educate, at least train men.

"In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play," written with consummate precision, has lofty and timely social and political implications. If Mozart were alive and wanted to compose something in his Cosi style, he'd have his person talk to Ruhl's person.

The action takes place in Victorian times USA in the two rooms of a doctor's "home study" medical practice. Unbeknown to the doctor's dimwitted wife (Kathleen Early), the doctor (Andrew Borba, in an exquisite bald-domed homage to Jose Ferrer) is two-timing her with an electric vibrating machine.

The mechanical connection between the machine and the patient's sexual organs and erogenous zones is made by a delicately shaped cup at the end of a metal rod. Because of the Victorian setting, the women are clothed in generous layers of petticoats, which makes for numerous sight gags. The slapstick quotient is like watching "Saturday Night Live" in a cage fight with Monty Python. But even that is surpassed when the curtain comes down on one very naked Borba and a few final gasps from the audience.

Director Casey Stangl fashions a cast of characters who are each worthy of the mug shots in a post office. Rebecca Mozo as a repressed wife has Munch's "Scream" pasted on her face -- sometimes in hysteria, sometimes in (deeply scary) radiant epiphanies of blessed relief. Early gives a tour-de-force performance as the doctor's wife, going battier by the minute with the machine that might save her, locked just a few feet away. It's Gracie Allen writ large, on speed.

Nice touches abound: Borba and his nurse (Libby West) are fastidious about washing their hands and changing the sheets on the "operating" table. They make a point, however, of keeping the vibrating cup unwiped throughout the play.

The production crew have come up with amazing work on "Vibrator's" colors and attitude. Despite a gloomy drawing-room ambiance, it is full of color. It is a trick of the mind created seemingly by the switching off and on of two simple table lights. Ingenious.

Of course, the color also could have been coming from the actors' energy and what Ruhl gives them to work with.

Venue: Argyros Stage, South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, Calif. (Through Oct. 17)
Cast: Kathleen Early, Andrew Borba, Rebecca Mozo, Libby West
Playwright: Sarah Ruhl
Director: Casey Stangl
Scenic designer: John Arnone
Costume designer: David Kay Mickelsen
�Lighting designer: Daniel Ionazzi
Composer/sound designer: Jim Ragland
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