Thursday, August 23, 2012

Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On

I’ve added a new blog to the roll over there on the right. I just discovered today that now-local fight choreographer Kevin Inouye, who did such amazing things in ‘Macbeth’ earlier this year, has a blog focusing on his specialty. You might check it out if that’s a corner of the theatrical world you are particularly interested in.

I’ve been mulling over Cadence Theatre’s “In the Next Room or the vibrator play” over the past week. One kudo to offer right off the bat is that I like a play that makes you ponder things and “In the Next Room” certainly does that. What I’ve been trying to get at is why I didn’t like the show as much as I think I should have. The production is beautiful: Elizabeth Weiss Hopper’s costumes are lovely (though I do see Mr. Miller’s point made in the T-D review that it’s a bit odd that they don’t change across multiple scenes) and the set by Brian Barker is another marvelous example of Cadence’s ability to squeeze the most out of the small Theatre Gym space. I won’t ruin anything for anybody who hasn’t seen it but there is a pretty spectacular technical surprise in the show that Rusty Wilson’s production pulls off beautifully.

The actors do a uniformly great job, with special mention demanded for Adrian Rieder as Leo who injects an invigorating bluster of energy to the second act and for Laine Satterfield who fully inhabits the mixed up bundle of emotions and impulses that make up Mrs. Daldry. Stephanie Hill and Lauren Leinhaas-Cook are both quietly powerful in their smaller roles, Leinhaas-Cook just downright devastating at the end. I liked both Larry Cook and Maura Burroughs as the couple at the center of the action – Cook resolute and endearingly confused while Burroughs is alternately focused and flighty – though I liked them better in their separate scenes than I did as a couple, one of those indefinable chemistry things perhaps. Andrew Boothby does his usual rock-steady job as the frustrated Mr. Daldry; I’d really wish someone would give him a lead, though; his more flamboyant work in “My Fair Lady” earlier this season provided just a hint of what he can do.

As far as the show goes, I have to admire Sarah Ruhl for going for some depth after a starting point that could have been just a series of vibrator-related jokes. But as charged (ha!) as the ending is between the Givings, it doesn’t quite bring the story home as well as I wish it could have. I didn’t have a clear idea of how the progress made in her relationship with her husband really addressed Mrs. Givings’ feelings of inadequacy and loneliness that are the focus of most of the play. The breakthrough seemed to me to be mostly a sexual one – that’s how it plays out, at least – but if that’s what it is, there are some dots that need to be connected to get to the emotional breakthrough. And given the subverted sexual context of the show, the breakthrough at the end isn’t quite sexual enough in my opinion, at least as far as Mrs. Givings goes. I find myself wondering if I would have left the show more satisfied (ha!) if the show had ended with Mrs. Givings in the throes of orgasm, signaling a different kind of breakthrough for the couple.

That’s a whole lot of intellectualizing about some of the deeper stuff but, perhaps more pointedly, I realize that on some level I had a hard time suspending disbelief as far as the categorical cluelessness about female sexual response dramatized in the play. Maybe that’s the way it was; it wouldn’t be the only historical reality that seems flabbergasting today. But part of the dissonance for me is that, if both men and women were so completely ignorant, it’s actually deeply sad to think of generations of women living under those kind of misperceptions, which particularly in retrospect, takes some of the hilarity out of the very-funny-in-the-moment “therapy sessions” the good doctor (and occasionally his nurse) administer.

Where I admire this show most – and the production as well – is in the secondary relationships. There are two very well-orchestrated and finely-attenuated reveals in the second act, both are bittersweet in their own way but also feel touching and real under Wilson’s direction. Ironically for a play that had great amounts of humor in it, it delighted me most when it made me sad. This may be the show in Cadence’s 2011-12 season that I enjoyed the least but that’s only because the company’s earlier offerings were in most all ways incredible. Regardless of any faults I perceived, “In the Next Room” is a beautifully staged, skillfully acted slice of Victorian life that will definitely make you laugh and, if you’re anything like me, leave you with some niggling little questions that will bounce around your head looking for an answer. Theater that makes you think as well as laugh? Not such a bad thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dave - do you have a date yet when the RTCC nominations will come out? We're all chomping at the bit :)