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Sarah Ruhl’s ‘In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play’ returns to Chicago at Timeline Theatre. Directed by Mechelle Moe, this drawing room comedy about the advent of electricity is sure to tickle audiences. Ruhl’s works have often been produced around the city as she’s an Evanston native. She may reside in Brooklyn now, but we’ll still claim her as our own.

‘In the Next Room’ was shortlisted for the 2009 Pulitzer after a successful Broadway run. It was also nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Play. ‘In the Next Room’ might just be Ruhl’s most fully realized play. It’s a whimsical, if not loose, history of the invention of the vibrator. While it may sound like a cheeky sex comedy, ‘In the Next Room’ is a feminist anthem.

Dr Givings (Anish Jethmalani) is a country doctor who specializes in hysteria, a very real condition that afflicted women during a much less sexual period in history. His wife Catherine (Rochelle Therrien) does not suffer as her husband’s patients do, but instead yearns for romantic love. In some ways, this play is like Sarah Ruhl’s own version of ‘A Doll’s House.’ A wife searching for her purpose in a world dominated by men. Catherine says at one point “I do not know what kind of person I am” and feels like a failure when her child will not nurse. Through various entrances and exits, we’re shown how sexless life was between man and wife during the Victorian era. As an audience with hindsight, we understand that this miracle cure for hysteria is nothing more than a medically induced orgasm.

The ensemble is well cast. Rochelle Therrien makes Ruhl’s fanciful dialogue endearing and innocent. Her fresh-faced and child-like performance is so charming you can’t believe her husband’s indifference. Though quiet and understated, Dana Tretta plays Annie, the physician’s midwife. A sort of “Igor” sidekick type, but Ruhl doesn’t overlook the character. Her arch of a life without love is perhaps the most touching of all.

Not only is this play a feminist anthem, but a play about orgasms. The very idea that women did not discuss anything related to sex is absurd in a world where you can watch re-runs of ‘Sex and the City’ at any given time. Even nursing a child was considered distasteful to discuss. Rarely if ever have so many simulated orgasms happened in one theatrical performance. Though, like the era, they’re so unsexualized that you can’t help but giggle at the characters discovering themselves. In one full-length play Sarah Ruhl bursts nearly every female taboo of the time out of the closet. Never have Women’s Rights been a more hot button issue and ‘In the Next Room’ comes at just the right time.

Through December 16 at Timeline Theatre Company. Stage 773, 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Based on the 1988 cult film “Heathers” starring Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, the talented cast of “Heathers: The Musical” bursts onto the stage with enough energy to "bully" the audience right back into the mean late 80's when this particular tale of murder in high school first raised the issues of teen cruelty over twenty-five years ago. Dark and questionable is the subject matter that it be made into a musical, but the show does have its moments. After all, we are talking about a film that may have forewarned us of the tragic school shootings to come in its wake. 

Veronica, the nerdy girl who becomes a "Heather" at the expense of her friendship to the truly kind "fat girl" in her class is well played here by Courtney Mack. Mack shows a full range of emotions as she realizes what has begun as simple teen angst and bullying has turned her new outsider boyfriend, J.D., whom she meets hanging around a 7-11 store all day into a serial murderer. Adding to Mack’s solid performance, Chris Ballou also does a fine job in taking on the role of J.D..  

Haley Jane Schafer, Rochelle Therrien and Jacquelyne Jones, are each fantastic as the “Heathers" - the meanest, prettiest girls in school who rule with an iron lipstick case. Each of the Heathers' has her own unique flavor of comedy and delivery and each are very good dancers as well as vocalists.

That said, the set which was a big colorless lump full of doorways did not make you feel you were in a high school at all and was actually a distraction at times. Also, the costumes the Heathers DID wear were great - very sexy period costumes, but then they never changed clothes until almost the end of the show, leaving some disappointment. As gorgeous, skinny, fickle fashion mongers, this inconsistency made the show feel much to be desired when it came to dressing them as the story progressed with the lack of colorful, sexy clothing and accessory changes as occurs in the movie and would be a big part of their real high school lives. 

The songs may not have been on the most memorable side, but the show did have a few good laughs. There was some terrific physical comedy in the slow motion fight scene between the two jocks who terrorize all the girls in school with jokes about date rape, etc. 

Certainly a challenging task at hand, James Beaudry's direction in this small venue with so much young and energetic talent falls short in that it seemed the play starts at a very high level of energy and volume and continues at that exact same volume even during the ballads. Instead, there needed to be some genuine reflection and time to rest for the characters to be fully formed and also to rest the audience’s ears – simply put, more dynamics. 

All in all, this cast did a great job with the materials they were given and delivered a funny, bitter and scary version of what life in high school was like then and now. See "Heathers" with the expectation of a few decent yuks, a handful of entertaining musical numbers ("Big Fun" comes to mind) and a sometimes pretty accurate nostalgic peek at high school in the late 1980's.   

Kokandy Productions of “Heathers: The Musical” is being performed at Theater Wit through April 24th. For more show information, visit www.theaterwit.org.  

 

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