Before we move onto The Three Musketeers, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, which we closed this past weekend.
Like another play in our season, Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, In the Next Room is about an historical past, yet a contemporary play (Ruhl’s being much more contemporary than Hampton’s 25-year-old creation). Sarah Ruhl is writing about the past and where we’ve come from, but she is also, one presumes, writing about our lives today. Actually, I recall that Ms. Ruhl stated this very thing in an interview with Raven Snook in Time Out New York:
I think it’s actually—and this sounds so pretentious—ontologically impossible to write about the past and not write about the present, because I’m in the present, so I’m always commenting from a distance. Even if I set out to write a play purely about the 19th century, I’m actually writing about myself living in New York in this moment in time. (Sep. 2, 2009; here is the complete article.)
When you see or read the play more than once, some of the initial impact falls away—well, the events and the comedy and the juxtapositions that are odd to us lose that first-time punch, but other elements in the play emerge (once we no longer are in the “shock comedy” mode): Ruhl’s use of various images related to light and dark; of natural light sources v. the “artificial” light of the new, glaring electric bulb; the man engrossed in the latest technology of the day, abandoning his family, his wife, his child for his equivalent of a new iPhone. These pieces of In the Next Room become visible and support the main action (as do the poetic speeches that Ruhl is not afraid to give her characters).
In the Next Room ends with a love scene between Dr. and Mrs. Givings. “Open me,” she asks. “Here?” he responds, for they are in their living room, next to his operating theatre and his vibrator.
“Away from the machine,” she responds. “In the garden. Undress me there.”
And they go there, in the snow, in the dark, into their garden. They remove their clothes: “She has never seen him naked before—she has only seen him under the covers,” read the stage directions. He makes a snow angel, and she gets on top of him, and they make a snow angel together—in the dark, as the flickering, insubstantial gas lights from the streets turn on. And Mrs. Givings has an orgasm on top of her husband.
The Victorian age had restrictions on sex (even within marriage) in part because of a long tradition of church teachings, which said that sex was the way in which sin was transmitted. It was because of sin and sex that the first humans were expelled from Eden.
Ruhl breaks through this construct, taking us back to our nakedness,
taking us back to our sex,
taking us back to our love,
surrounded by angels in a garden.
There is a lot more In the Next Room than a vibrator.