Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble stages ‘hysterical’ play
Invented before the electric light bulb and long before Freud came into fashion, the vibrator distinguished itself as the fifth electric appliance to make its way into homes — right after the sewing machine, the fan, the tea kettle and the toaster.
Its use was purely medical and shockingly innocent — to induce a hysterical paroxysm to treat the anxiety, crankiness, depression and other undesirable female behaviors lumped under the condition “hysteria” (derived from the Greek word for “uterus.”). In the mid 19th century, it was believed one quarter of women suffered from it. Doctors weary of bringing about the treatment manually, were relieved for the device’s assistance and gradually women realized they could apply the treatment at home themselves. Still, it would be years before anyone figured out this female orgasm was a sexual act.
It’s hard to imagine such naivety was possible considering today’s sexually frank culture, but Sarah Ruhl’s play In the Next Room does it with a subtly and tenderness that delighted critics when The Lincoln Center’s production opened on Broadway at the Lyceum in 2009.
Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble will present the comedy in conclusion of its 2011-2012 MainStage Season. Directed by ensemble member Cassandra Pisieczko, the cast includes Anastasia Peterson (recently seen at BTE as Emma in Jon Jory’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel) as Catherine Givings, Aaron White as Dr. Givings, Nina Edgerton as Sabrina Daldry, a patient, and Katherine Nora LeRoy as wet nurse, Elizabeth.
The play is set in the home and office of Dr. Givings who treats women for hysteria, which he describes as “a congestion in the womb” that once relieved will bring the restoration of health. As The New York Times critic Christopher Isherwood saw it, “Female sexual pleasure is so far from the mind of the average 19th-century man that he cannot recognize its display even when it is taking place literally beneath his nose.”
Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Mrs. Givings is intrigued by the sounds released by her husband’s patients. She doesn’t recognize them because, although she is a young mother, she’s never made them herself.
“For the Victorians, the thought of women being capable of sexual pleasure simply did not exist, either in polite parlor conversation or in medical textbooks. It was as if a collective amnesia of the intimacies of life swept through Victorian parlors (and bedrooms), and as the corsets laced tighter — so too did the strictures on knowledge and morality,” Pisieczko wrote in her Director’s Note for the production.
Ruhl sees the play not about pleasure, but rather the absence of intimacy — a shutting off from each other and disconnect between one’s own body, mind and spirit — that unlike the sexual naivety, hasn’t passed. Unable to nurse her own child, Mrs. Givings has had to hire a wet nurse to do it for her.
“Meditations on marriage, motherhood, and the longing for personal satisfaction reverberate throughout this piece — as well as the desire to see, and be seen, for who we are as individuals,” Pisieczko continued. “…Underneath it all is a longing to connect, to know and be known on an intimate level — a longing to be not in the next room, but rather in communion with those we love.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: BTE presents In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) by Sarah Ruhl
WHERE: Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St., Bloomsburg
WHEN: May 3-20. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Doors open an hour before curtain.
TICKETS: $11-25. Tickets to preview performances Thursday and Friday, May 3-4 are $11.
INFO: 784-8181 or (800) 282-0283 or www.bte.org.