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The one thing you should see this week: love, sex and “paroxysms” in a titillating comedy of manners

The one thing you should see this week: love, sex and “paroxysms” in a titillating comedy of manners
Trish Lindström, David Storch, Elizabeth Saunders and Melody A. Johnson (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)

This week’s pick: In the Next Room or the vibrator play at Tarragon Theatre

Sarah Ruhl is a darling of the New York stage—she won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, and her latest play, the Noël Coward–esque Stage Kiss, is currently playing to raves on Broadway. In the Next Room, which premiered in 2009, steps back from some of the lofty, epic scope of her previous work and zeroes in on the quotidian world of the Victorian drawing room—and the quivering loins lurking therein.

Catherine Givings (Trish Lindstrom) is the cheerful but unsatisfied wife of an uptight doctor (David Storch). Dr. Givings is able to provide “paroxysms” to “hysterical” female patients via the newfangled contraption of the secondary title, but is unable to bring the same electricity to his marriage (Hysteria, which played at this year’s TIFF, mines similar territory).

The plot is somewhat predictable—Catherine, with the help of a gratified patient, discovers the secret of her husband’s operating theatre, leading to a spate of misunderstandings and comic hijinks. Less predictable is the gentle tenderness of the play, which creeps in alongside the overwrought moans and double entendres. Storch, one of Toronto’s finest actors, is wry and clinical when unwittingly stimulating his patients but thwarted and fumbling as he tries to please his wife. Marci T. House, meanwhile, turns in a quiet, heartbreaking performance as a grieving mother hired as a wet nurse for the Givings’ infant daughter.

Jane Austen would have blanched at the thought of sex in the staid, hallowed parlour, but Ruhl’s razor-sharp play broadens the scope of the comedy of manners. The walls between the drawing room and the operating theatre come crashing down, in the process erasing the lines between propriety and pleasure.

The details: To October 23. $38–$45. 30 Bridgman Ave., 416-531-1827, tarragontheatre.com.

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