Set during the Victorian era, this new play by Sarah Ruhl is about a doctor who is treating his hysteria patients with an electrical instrument that releases pent-up energy in the womb. Today it’s known as a vibrator, but at that time the medical profession had not yet discovered its “recreational” uses. While the doctor’s patients enjoy the benefits of this treatment, his wife sits in the next room, craving his attention.
Of course In the Next Room derives much humor from the basic premise, which is based very much on genuine medical history and captured hilariously onstage. But what playwright Ruhl is clearly interested in most is human relationships, and this play isn’t so much about the merits of physical stimulation as it is about the importance of emotional connection. It is a funny, touching, and intelligent play that captures an era when scientific curiosity and societal repression began to come up against each other.