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Arts & Culture

Cellar production short-circuits 'In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play'

Photo: Dwayne Green, License: N/A

Dwayne Green

Heather Kelley and Chuck Wigginton in the Cellar's production of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play.


So much for content; now on to form. In her other plays — The Clean House and Eurydice among them — Ruhl is best known for toying with tone, particularly with magical realism. The Vibrator Play seems squarely to fit in the mode of naturalism — with glances at, say, Shaw — but famously concludes with this trademark magical realism: Ruhl follows her own rule, so to speak. Thus, as published, the confining walls of the bourgeois house completely dissolve and the protagonists make love in the garden, in the snow, while creating snow angels: this final coup de théâtre ties together much of the play's religious imagery (especially about nature and Eden) and is the payoff for monologues earlier in the play.

I've been told that the Cellar found such technical challenges to be insurmountable, so the Playhouse's production cuts the magical realism and opts instead for complete gibberish: the doctor invites his wife into the interior living room — which is exactly the opposite of any possible interpretation of the ending — and they have sex on the floor of the house. No garden. No angels. No snow. Just a now baffling line from the doctor that he's worried about the streetlights (um, is there a trolley line cutting through the parlor?), some strange illumination, and then the curtain falls.

This is all so frustrating. I was so excited to see The Vibrator Play in San Antonio, but what we got last weekend was a misrepresentation of the underlying text. It's like a broken promise. That said, Asia Ciaravino, the new president of the Playhouse, has indicated that for the remainder of the run, the deleted lines will be restored, and an African-American actress will be sought. Some of the best theater I've seen in San Antonio has been in the Cellar: let us hope that it will soon be buzz-worthy again. •

In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play

$25-$15
8pm Fri and Sat;
2:30pm Sun
San Pedro Playhouse
800 W Ashby
(210)733-7258
sanpedroplayhouse.com
Through July 8

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