The book I read this week is NSFW, so this post will also be NSFW. Proceed at your own risk.
I don’t typically read plays. They are created to be seen, not read so reading doesn’t allow for the full experience. But I was so intrigued by the alternate title of Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room that I had to make an exception.
It’s the vibrator play.
I don’t know what I was expecting from it. The story is set in the 1880s, at the dawn of electricity, and features a doctor who treats “hysteria” with his new invention – what will eventually be called a vibrator.
The treatment scenes are interesting (and undoubtedly would be even MORE interesting upon seeing the show live), but the true appeal of the play is its emotional resonance. The treatments throw a harsh light on the problems in the doctor’s relationship with his wife as well as his patient’s relationship with her husband. Through these treatments, the women discover the things that bring them physical pleasure and it allows them to search for more in their emotional lives as well. Though Dr. Givings is hesitant to use the invention on his wife, they soon find it isn’t necessary when they allow themselves to feel the passion they had been repressing.
Ruhl explores human sexuality thoroughly and openly. Mrs. Givings has a passion and libido that her husband isn’t satisfying. Mrs. Daldry finds that the machine only works on her when Annie uses it. Elizabeth is the one to tell them that sex with your husband is supposed to be good.
Symbolically, the play takes place in two rooms simultaneously: the operating theater, where the doctor uses his device on his patients, and the living room, where his wife interacts with his patients emotionally. When they come together in between them, the scenery shifts to a snow-covered garden. The imagery couldn’t be clearer. By allowing themselves to be passionate and try new things, they are able to reach a new connection that allow them to be physically and emotionally intimate with each other and to enjoy it.
Ruhl makes the reader question the characters’ sexuality and relationships so they can reconsider their own. It shows the importance of physical intimacy in a relationship. But, mostly, it’s about passion, about opening yourself up to another person in order to find something truly beautiful.