Review: In the Next Room or the vibrator play 

3.5 stars

Phoenix Theatre; directed by Bryan Fonseca. This Tony-nominated work is the first of three Sarah Ruhl plays to be staged around Indy this month. With In the Next Room, the up-and-coming playwright takes us into the upper crust home of a Victorian-era doctor who treats depressed patients with a then little-known electrical device. Dr. Givings uses a vibrator to cure "hysteria" and deems orgasms healthy for patients, but not his wife. Ruhl playfully juxtaposes Victorian decorum with scenes of clinical ecstasy, while projecting strong sympathy for characters struggling to compartmentalize their emotions and desires. Ruhl pushes symbolism too hard with repeated conversations about the old era and the new (candles vs. lamps) and unspoken observations about the leisure and servant class. The only character to understand life fully, from satisfying sex to childcare to mourning, is the black wet nurse. Overall though, Phoenix's production is well directed, funny and heartfelt, with moving performances by Lauren Briggeman (The Housewives of Mannheim) as the frustrated doctor's wife, Angela Plank as a delightfully flabbergasted patient, and Dwandra Nicole as the servant grieving for her dead son. As the doctor, Michael Shelton is clueless without being buffoonish, a restraint that makes his inane bedside manner enjoyably ridiculous. The plush Victorian set (James Gross) and costumes (Andrea Baer) define the era and the many taboo boundaries that men and women must cross to find intimacy. Through Oct. 24; 635-2381; www.phoenixtheatre.org.

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