TRUST ME, I'M A DOCTOR: Jeffrey Bracco offers some healing hands to Sarah Moser in City Lights' production of 'In the Next Room'
The vibrator was originally applied as a medical device rather than a sex toy. Victorian women diagnosed with “hysteria,” a catchall term for any emotional state that men didn’t understand, would visit doctors for therapeutic masturbation sessions to relieve the pressure on their nerves and release “excess fluids.” In an era when female sexuality wasn’t always associated with pleasure, this procedure was viewed as strictly medical and perfectly respectable, and herein lies much of the comedic grist for In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). (Coincidentally, the subject of the new movie Hysteria.)
This title, now on the marquee at City Lights Theater, suggests a lightweight sex farce. In reality, while the play is erotically charged and uproariously funny, Pulitzer-nominee Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, Eurydice, Dead Man’s Cell Phone) has crafted something that is also unexpectedly complex and stunningly poignant.
The story concerns Dr. Givings (Jeffrey Bracco), who administers a “pelvic massage” therapy to his “hysterical” patients, including Mrs. Daldry (an effervescent Sarah Moser) and a rare male case, the sensitive artist Leo Irving (Adam Magill). The induced “paroxysm” leaves the patients feeling euphoric and greatly relaxed, but the notion that such a release might occur in the bedroom rather than a doctor’s office seems alien to them.