By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Synchronicity Theatre is marching boldly and comically into seldom trod ground with their delightful production of Sarah Ruhl’s play “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play,” playing at Horizon Theatre through November 19.  Playwright Ruhl was a Pulitzer finalist with this work, and she has established herself as an important voice in American theatre with just a few works (among them “Eurydice,” performed at the Alliance Theatre a short time ago in a joint production with Georgia Shakespeare).

The setting is upstate New York in the 1880’s, not long after the inventions of Thomas Alva Edison, who has inspired Dr. Givings (Brian Kurlander—a fine performance) to harness this new power of electricity in an experimental apparatus to treat women diagnosed with “hysteria.”  This ailment is a first cousin to neurasthenia, a condition defined by “fatigue, worry, inadequacy, lack of zest and often headaches, and undue sensitiveness to light and noise.”  And the “relief” provided by the doctor’s device is considered by all to be therapeutic, not erotic.

At this point you may be amused or you may be squirming; however, it is not my function to provide a sexual-sociological treatise on the pervasive ignorance and hypocrisy of Victorian morality.  If you’re uncomfortable, I would simply change channels; but you’ll be missing some truly insightful directing (by Rachel May) and acting by this company, which is the finest I’ve seen Synchronicity assemble—ever.

Pretty, young Mrs. Catherine Givings, played by Kate Donadio in an arresting performance at once funny, subtle, and full of longing, witnesses a parade of patients visit her husband’s office for treatment. There is Mrs. Sabrina Daldry (Tiffany Morgan), accompanied by her husband (Doyle Reynolds).  Mrs. Daldry says, “I am afraid there is very little sympathy between us.”  It’s a toss-up as to who is the more messed up, shall we say.  Both Ms. Morgan and Mr. Reynolds are excellent.

There is the quite dashing Leo Irving (wonderfully played by Tony Larkin) an artist full of liberating ideas but ironically somewhat “hysterical” himself.  (What?  A man in this condition?  Not to worry:  Dr. Givings is full of surprises.)

Daryl Lisa Fazio as the doctor’s assistant and Xiomara Yanique as a woman who can provide the mother’s milk Mrs. Givings lacks, are both first-rate.

In this play there is the parlor and the doctor’s office.  Not much room for very intimate examinations and conversations; but Michael Halad’s set works beautifully.  Jonida Beqo’s costumes are exquisite.

The pace slows down a bit in Act II; Ms. Ruhl perhaps tries to cover too much ground.  For “In the Next Room” to sail, the comic spirit must always be paramount—even though there are characters who have serious problems.  Happily, Ms. May keeps things rolling along nicely for most of the evening.

A song has been playing in my head; it’s “Sweet Inspiration,” by Penn and Oldham.  “I’ve gotta have  your sweet inspiration—you know there just ain’t no tellin’ what a satisfied woman might do.”

If I were you, I’d hop on over to the “vibrator play” – it’s a startling, very satisfying work.

For information and tickets, visit www.synchrotheatre.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.