In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
City Lights Theatre Company
May 17–Jun. 17
One fascinating aspect of the Victorian era that’s too often dwarfed by glowering portraits of the Queen Mother and vague notions of skirts for piano legs is the period’s energetic pursuit of scientific knowledge. The Victorians’ passion for the natural sciences—currently invading the Bay Area in the form of the Steampunk aesthetic—has long been tapped by playwrights for stories of exceptional minds whose abilities challenge social convention, such as Lauren Gunderson’s "Silent Sky" and Tom Stoppard’s "Arcadia." The period also saw paradigm-shifting discoveries in psychology and medicine—many of them as foundational to modern thought as they are incorrect—and the harnessing of electrical current. Ruhl’s play, which originated at Berkeley Rep three years ago, pounces on the squirm-inducing nexus (ahem) where these latter fields intersect—the medical treatment of “hysteria” in women by use of an electric-powered device that produced satisfying though complicated results. Not just a play for the corset-and-lace set, this play creates surprisingly gentle comedy from the collision of Victorian scientific enthusiasm, dynamics of human intimacy, and a veritable soundtrack of moaning. Visit cltc.org.
Laura’s Other Picks
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Jun. 27–July 8
If you’ve only seen the film, you haven’t seen "Hedwig." Catchy songs and fab costumes aside, there’s something film can’t capture about this rock opera’s aggressive, vulnerable, complicated central figure that the shared space of theatre makes visceral and disturbingly intimate. When you can feel the charged distance between yourself and the lead performer, stranded sweating and alone under harsh dive-bar lighting, and hear the labored breath beneath those famous rock anthems, it becomes possible to sense how the play trades in, among other things, the audience’s complicity in viewing Hedwig as a freakish spectacle, whether saint or pariah, even as we relish—and ultimately can’t avoid—connection with the character’s passions and pain. Visit boxcartheatre.org.
Risk Is This
Cutting Ball Theatre
Jun. 8–Jul. 14
In the ’60s and ’70s, San Francisco was home to some important experimental theatre, but the nationwide decline of the involved, informed theatregoing audience and the indulgences of esoteric performance art in the ’80s continue to work against unapologetically “experimental” pieces seeking a home in professional venues. Taking advantage of the festival format (and free admission) to encourage today’s slightly risk-averse audiences to sample something unusual, Cutting Ball comes to the rescue with some nice, fat slices of weird new theatre. Who knows—the next major innovator in American theatre might be taking the stage here, finally given a space to drastically subvert our assumptions of what theatre can be. Would you want to miss that? Visit cuttingball.com.
Aurora Theatre Company
Jun. 21–Jul. 22
The bizarre tale of Salome has been adapted into many forms, including a grand opera, a graphic novel and Oscar Wilde’s intense, formally challenging play. The story’s biblical origins gave early variety performers like dancer Maud Allan a sort of surface carte blanche—how could a Bible story be sinful?—even as its sensual aspects thrilled audiences and disgusted critics and conservatives. Meanwhile, Allan’s success spawned hundreds of imitators...and lawsuits. Writer/director Mark Jackson takes on this fascinating cultural moment and, not content to deliver a museum piece, relates it to our own. Media sensationalism? Freedom of expression? Wartime hysteria? Yep, I think we’ve heard of those. Visit auroratheatre.org.
Laura Brueckner is associate editor for Theatre Bay Area and the director of new work for Crowded Fire Theater. Email her your tales of mystery and imagination at email@example.com.
Maria Dizzia and Hannah Cabell in Berkeley Repertory Theatre's 2009 world premiere of "In the Next Room."
Laura's Editor's Picks May/June 2012 by / Laura BruecknerPublished 2012-05-15
In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
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