Playwright Sarah Ruhl is nothing if not gutsy. She boldly
ventures into tricky topics ranging from science to sex in this
unconventional period play. And yes, several scenes involving a
clunky 19th Century prototype of the electric vibrator.
Its inventor is a white-coated doctor who declares his device the
very latest in medical technology.
Doctor: "Do you feel calmer?"
Patient (frightened): "A little!"
Doctor: "Yes, it will just take a matter of
The effect on the patient - a woman who has had difficulty
sleeping, or enduring bright lights - is remarkable.
Woman: "How well rested you look!"
Woman 2: "I feel wonderful! Your husband is a good
There are plenty of belly laughs in this show. But it's more
than a simple sex comedy. Tragedy crops up, and serious topics like
race relations are explored. In this scene, a young white mother
who doesn't have enough milk to breast feed her infant daughter
talks with her black wet nurse, whose baby has just died.
Black Mom: "His name was Henry Douglas."
White Mom: "A boy."
Black Mom: "Yes."
White Mom: "Have you buried him yet?"
Black Mom: "He's buried, at the church yard, All Souls. He
was baptized before he died. For that, I'm grateful."
What makes this play so rare and engrossing is the way it
weaves that kind of intimate detail with the larger sense that the
whole world is changing.
Characters marvel as the newly-invented electric light bulb
illuminates their homes. Women seek greater independence and
equality in their relationships with their husbands.
This is also a remarkably well-organized production, with
strong acting and gorgeous period costumes. Even though it's only
February, I can tell you this very ambitious show will be on my
short list of the year's best.