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In the Next Room brings an electric performance to Civic Center Music Hall

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Oklahoma City might not be known for risque, sex-themed theater, but the latest critically acclaimed play to grace the Reduxion Theatre Company stage is sure to have local audiences buzzing.

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play), the Tony and Pulitzer-nominated comedy about “marriage, intimacy and electricity,” premieres Friday at City Space Theatre at Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker Ave.

The play is based on a bizarre historical fact: In the late 1800s, doctors treated “hysterical” women with vibrators. From the Greek work for “uterus,” documented cases of so-called female hysteria (a long-since discarded medical idea) date to the 13th century. From horseback riding, wooden dildos and applying vegetable oil to afflicted regions, there was always a latest cure for the mysterious ailment. None addressed the problem’s root cause: sexual frustration.

Female hysteria manifested itself in myriad socially unacceptable ways: irritability, erotic fantasies, “wetness between the leg.” Until the 19th century, it was widely believed that women didn’t have a sex drive, so it was not only considered inappropriate to label the affliction what it was, but scientifically unfounded. It wasn’t until technology caught up with demand that hysteria finally met its match. Homemade tools are one thing; batteries are quite another.

In the Next Room is set in the 1880s in the Victorian home of well-to-do Dr. Givings. The dawn of the age  of electricity has led the good doctor to innocently invent something extraordinary in his home laboratory: the vibrator. As eager patients begin arriving to try his new, untested therapy, Givings’ young wife, tending to their newborn daughter next to the lab, can’t help but wonder what’s going on in the next room. When a hysterical patient and her husband bring a wet nurse and their own complicated relationship into the equation, Givings must examine his own marriage and the nature of love itself.

Even after 130 years, the subject matter is a bit risqué, and the comedy is rated R for nudity and themes of sexuality. However, In the Next Room is no juvenile sex romp or bawdy pun-fest. Playwright Sarah Ruhl has been compared to Henrik Ibsen and Oscar Wilde, and critics praised her latest work as smart, funny and poignant.

In the Next Room is a true novelty,” said The New York Times. “A sex comedy designed not for sniggering teenage boys — or grown men who wish they were still sniggering teenage boys — but for adults with open hearts and minds.”

The Hollywood Reporter also agreed Ruhl balanced the humorous subject matter perfectly with deeper themes: “The playwright mines her subject for suitably bawdy humor without resorting to vulgarity.”

Oklahoma City actor Keegan Zimmerman portrays Dr. Givings, and his wife Catherine is played by Lia Oldham. Jennifer Farley, David Pasto, Mariah Warren, Chase Bradshaw and Rodonna Carter round out the small cast.

Directed by nationally renowned intimacy coach and choreographer Tonia Sina Ellis, the OKC premiere of In the Next Room runs through June 25.

Visit okcciviccenter.com or call 405-297-2264.

Print headline: Risque buzz, Reduxion Theatre Company premieres In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) to Oklahoma City audiences Wednesday.

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