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In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play 

As the sitcom writers say, hilarity ensues, not to mention masturbation on many metaphorical levels.

Jessica Frances Dukes, Melinda Helfrich and Megan McDermott in PICT's In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play.

Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons.

Jessica Frances Dukes, Melinda Helfrich and Megan McDermott in PICT's In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play.

There are so many puns about the wonders that technology brings to sexual stimulation that could be provoked (or, in decency, avoided) in discussing In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play. Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's local premiere of Sarah Ruhl's 2010 Pulitzer finalist hits an amusing assortment of sensitivities: racism, sexism, art, science and the problems wrought by progress.

Vibrator has many elements of the classic French farce: a lush Belle Époque setting, doors (though fewer) opening and closing in perfect time, and hyperactive (though well-dressed) characters addled by sexual misunderstandings. The conceit here, though, is that American middle-class ladies are as clueless about physical pleasures as their Feydeauvian counterparts are cunning.

Apparently set in New York in the 1880s (though topical references range from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries), Vibrator focuses on a terribly insecure young wife and new mother, played by Megan McDermott with a range from gushing charm to passionate tenderness. The plot proceeds on her obsession with the consulting room next door and the "medical treatments" therein.

The husband/doctor (Brad Heberlee, combining youthful vigor with stodginess) revels in the marvels of electricity and the current wars between Edison's straightforward DC and Westinghouse's sinuous AC. Alas, he is as oblivious of his wife's yearnings as he is deluded about his patients' "ailment" and his application of electrical vibrators. As the sit-com writers say, hilarity ensues, not to mention masturbation on many metaphorical levels.

Directed by Alan Stanford, the PICT production boasts the able assistance of its truly creative team: Pei-Chi Su, costumes; Gianni Downs, set design and production manager; Mark Whitehead, sound; Andrew David Ostrowski, lights; and Aaron Bollinger, technical director. Not to mention a well-rounded cast: Melinda Helfrich as a needy patient and Philip Winters as her needier husband; Lissa Brennan as the nearly sexless midwife; Denver Milord as the oversexed artist (if that's not redundant); and Jessica Frances Dukes in the apologetic role of wet nurse.

As absurd (and offensive?) as Vibrator may be, it's well grounded in history. Never underestimate the potential of human foible.

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