Mar 27, 2017

[Theater] In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play (Repertory Philippines)

Completing this year's regular season for Repertory Philippines is In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play. I love a good comedy and this one seemed promising enough given it's deliberately sexual flavor to its humor. And in these trying times, we could all use a good comedy.

But the play turned out to be a lot more than just cheap comedy, which I suppose is to be expected from Repertory Philippines at this point. They do have a knack for finding some interesting plays to stage. Slapstick is easy but good comedies like this that need you to think as well are a little harder to come by. And they're also tricky to execute well.

I really enjoyed this production, and I was glad that we had a good experience with the opening weekend. I tend to steer away from the first weekend as I still expect a lot of technical errors or other goofs that come along during the first weekend of performances. But in this case it was a great matinee with a pretty respectably large audience for a Sunday show and we're all the better for it.


Synopsis: In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play is a play written by Sarah Ruhl about the early history of the vibrator and its use as a medical device. The original play was nominated for 3 Tony Awards. The Repertory Philippines staging was directed by Chris Millado and runs from March 24 - April 23, 2017 at the OnStage Theater at Greenbelt 1 in Makati City. Given the sensitive nature of the subject matter, the play is considered adults only.

In 19th century America we meet Dr. Givings (Joshua Spafford), who specializes in using his new machine to treat women for "hysteria". His latest patient is Sabrina Daldry (Caisa Borromeo), who is brought in by her husband (Hans Eckstein) in order to be cured. Dr. Givings holds clinic in the home that he shares with his wife Catherine (Giannina Ocampo) and their new baby. The treatments all take place in his operating theater, thus the euphemism of asking patients to see him "in the next room".

The treatment actually a vibrator powered by electricity, which is a newer development at the time. Dr. Givings uses the device to bring women to orgasm together with the assistance of Annie (Tami Monsod) when necessary. But in these Victorian times, achieving orgasm with one's spouse seems to be a mystery for such women. And thus the play not only depicts this now odd use of vibrators as treatment but also Victorian sensibilities and other women's issues.

What I Like: There were a lot of great performances in this play, but a lot of the enjoyment certainly involved Giannina Ocampo and Caisa Borromeo. Giannina's story arc as Catherine was naturally more complex but subtle at the same time as she ends up exploring her sexuality through her husband's patients. On the flip side we had Caisa Borromeo as a delightful, bubbly character who shows a serious interest in the vibrator treatments. She adds more conventional humor, but certainly in a good way.

And I loved the set!

And then you have the writing behind this play that just has so many layers of meaning to uncover. Sure there's the initial shock and amusement over the notion of vibrators as medical treatment. But in time you start to look at the challenges of women's awareness of their own bodies at the time along with the complex issues of pregnancy and the role of being a mother. And that final scene was a very touching one indeed.

What Could Have Been Better: As is often the case with these stage plays, achieving more of the humorous side of things are tricky to achieve well. There were still a number of moments in the play that had somewhat odd pacing that killed the humor at times. However with better pacing and even just more thoughtful pauses before delivering some of the lines and things would have had more impact. And sure, the play is more serious than your typical comedy piece, but the overall tone of things was still meant to be a bit more comedic.

Jef Flores distracts me now as he seems to be playing the same character again and again - a role that feels like a hipster out of time. Even as Jesus in Godspell he felt like a hipster Jesus, but I'll admit it worked out well in that production. His character felt a little left field when he joins the story in the second act and it's hard to determine if it was more related to the writing of the character or how he was depicted on stage.

TL;DR: The Next Room or The Vibrator Play is a fun piece on the whole and the cherry on top for Repertory Philippines' regular season of straight plays this year. It's a very smart play with a lot to say and a great team delivering that message. Thus the show gets great 4.5 uses of electricity in Victorian-era America out of a possible 5.

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