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Castle Hill Players: In The Next Room Or The Vibrator Play - Review by Daniel Conway





Medical science is really fascinating and, at times, truly terrifying if you think about it. For a profession that we, as a collective, understand requires extensive education to become a practitioner, there have been so many cases of people just doing things for the heck of it. From bloodletting to only recently understanding how anesthesia works, medical science is full of things that either don't make sense or time has proven to be very, very wrong. In The Next Room or the Vibrator Play revolves around one such medical curio: the treatment of hysteria. When I told people about seeing this play, I was shocked that the history of vibrators was not as widely known, but I suppose it falls into the "so absurd it has to be true" category. Castle Hill Players' performance of In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play is a show that relies on the talents of the actors to navigate the absurd and tell a story about connection and understanding.





Director Meredith Jacobs has led her team wonderfully in this production and has created a show worthy of the very high standard theatre-goers have come to expect from Castle Hill Players. Jacobs has crafted a very funny and often thought-provoking piece that explores isolation amidst the absurdity, which is reflected in the performances that Jacobs has helped bring out. Each of the women is isolated, and so much of it is about the unsaid or unspoken desires and pains that women have felt. This production does a wonderful job of balancing the heartbreak and hilarity, thanks to the choices of Jacobs and her team. The set is wonderfully constructed, dividing the stage and giving each half a personality that gives the illusion of walls that are not there. The costumes are impeccable and period-appropriate, right down to the old-fashioned bloomers. This is a well-executed production, and all elements of stagecraft have been used effectively.





The small cast works perfectly together to really flesh out these characters and their dynamics. Playing Catherine Givings and her husband, the electricity-loving Dr. Givings, are Kate Gandy and Paul Sztelma. Gandy's Catherine is clearly very lonely and desperate for connection and affection. She presents this wonderfully and has great chemistry with everyone on stage. Sztelma succeeds in the tough job of presenting a man who is single-minded and oblivious to his wife's needs in a way that makes me fully realize and still likeable. Equally, I admire his stone face and commitment to character while the "procedure" was taking place. I do not imagine it is easy to keep a straight face while Lana Jean Hill (who plays Sabrina Daldry) is acting out an orgasm to great amusement and much laughter from the audience. This commitment to keeping it together is equally true of Kimberlea Smith as the good doctor's assistant Annie. Smith's performance was anchoring on stage; she held the space with a firm and gentle presence that is punctuated by the tender sadness at the end of her character's arc. I have already spoken about Lana Jean Hill, but her physical comedy and ability to deliver a line should not be understated. She is hilarious and steals more than one scene. Hill is often opposite Chris Scarpellino as Mr. Daldry. Scarpellino has a wonderful charm on stage and really embodies an old-world New York businessman. Julian Floriano plays Leo Irving, the "Hysterical" artist in search of inspiration. The character is written as very camp and flighty, and Floriano delivers that perfectly. Rounding out this cast is Elizabeth, played by Christine Wilson. Elizabeth is an outsider in the group, both narratively and in function. I used the word "camp" to describe the character of Leo, but that word applies to most on stage except for Elizabeth, whose sobering final monologue really hammers home the thematic ideas of the play and is masterfully delivered by Wilson.





In The Next Room Or The Vibrator Play is another strong outing from Castle Hill Players, who are having a very good year. This show has everything you could want: both light and shade, well-acted scenes with beautiful sets and lighting, and, most of all, hilarious performances of orgasms, highlighting just how absurd the medical profession's understanding of the female body was. I give this production 4 demonstrations of electricity out of 5.





Photos courtesy of Chris Lundie

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