In the Next Room

This story begins with a class I took sophomore year called English 2189.  It was an unremarkable class, except that I met Caitlin and Lamia and I read the play “The Clean House” by Sarah Ruhl.  I really liked it, so I read the other three plays in the anthology: “Late: A Cowboy Song,” “Melancholy Play,” and “Eurydice.”  (I still have that book, if anyone wants to borrow it.)

Then the MU Theatre Department put on a production of “Eurydice” that semester, so I went to see it.  The performance was just as fresh, quirky, charming, funny, and irreverent as the script itself.  I started to fall in a little bit in love with Ruhl’s work.

Then I came across her newest play, “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.”  It sounded fascinating, and not just because it had “vibrator” in the title. (But mostly because it had “vibrator” in the title.)  In 2010, the play was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Play.  Around the time I was planning my study abroad trip, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis announced the play would be part of its 2010-2011 season.  Of course. A play I’m dying to see is coming to one of my favourite venues, and I’m going to be 9,000 miles away.

Then I did a little more research and found out the play was to be part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2011 season at the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE.  Yes!  I moved snorkeling and koala cuddling down a few spaces and put seeing “the vibrator play” at the Opera House at the top of my Sydney to-do list.

So a few days ago, I bought my ticket. It was only $40 because they give discounts to people under 30 (everyone should do that, amirite?), and because I went by myself, I scored the one unsold seat within the first few rows of the theatre.  It turns out the Drama Theatre only holds 544 people in 19 rows, so really, there’s no such thing as a bad seat.

An ad for the play outside of the Opera House

I got to the opera house about an hour early so I could pick up my ticket and wander around for a while.  Unlike, say, the Fox Theatre, the Opera House isn’t nearly as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. It’s nice enough, but the 1970s design influences are a little too apparent.  The interior’s best feature is the windows that provide gorgeous views of Sydney Harbour.

A photographer captures the Harbour Bridge from the steps of the Sydney Opera House

Oh hey, I'm just hanging out at my office in the Sydney Opera House. (Disclaimer: I don't actually have an office in the Opera House. Only in my dreams.)

In addition to its many performance spaces, the Opera House has several restaurants and bars on the premises.  An hour before the show, most of the tables were full of well-dressed people sipping wine and mingling.  I tried to compare the classy yet relaxed scene to something I’d seen in St. Louis (or anywhere in America, for that matter), and came up with nothing.  Oh.  Now I remember why I’m here.

People mingle at the Opera Bar on Sydney Harbour before a performance at the Sydney Opera House.

There's a restaurant in that glass part.

Sails? Seashells? Pope hats? All of the above?

Theatregoers mingle outside the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre before a performance of "In the Next Room or the vibrator play."

Dramatic light is dramatic.

As for the play itself…it was sensational.  I’m not a theatre expert, but to my eyes the production was flawless–the acting, sets, costumes, and sound were all phenominal.  I tend to judge the quality of a performance based on how I feel when the curtain falls at intermission.  If my first thought is “It’s about time,” that means I’m not too into the performance.  Last night, my first thought was “Really? already?!”  That, for me, is the mark of an engaging show.

I’d never read the play before, so the only knowledge I had of it came from the summary on the Opera House website.  In many ways, it was different from what I’d expected.

For one thing, it was funny.  I suppose I was anticipating a piece of Serious Theatre providing Thoughtful Commentary on the lives of women in the 19th century.  But nope.  This play was hil-arious.  I don’t know if I was sitting in a room full of thirteen-year-olds or what (they all looked pretty grown-up to me), but my fellow audience members giggled hysterically every time one of the characters made a sexual joke or had an orgasm.  Which, quite frankly, was most of the first act.  I’ve seen enough performances of “The Vagina Monologues” that women moaning onstage don’t really faze me anymore.  But I still found plenty to laugh at in “the vibrator play.”

Secondly, the play made sense.  Most of Sarah Ruhl’s plays are nonsensical in the same poignant, delightful way that modern art doesn’t make sense.  I recall spending most of “Eurydice” thinking “WTF?!” and delighting nonetheless in the playful absurdity.  But “the vibrator play” had a normal plot and a normal understanding of space and time. (Disclaimer: the world “normal” is very, very subjective in the context of theatre.)  It wasn’t what I expected from Ruhl, but her signature style still came through in the script’s playful humour and light-hearted touch.

The element that catapulted my “vibrator play” experience from great to unforgettable, though, was the venue.  During intermission, I walked outside and oh look, there’s Sydney Harbour.  In case I had somehow forgotten where I was, the Harbour Bridge was right there as a striking reminder.  After the play ended, I left the Opera House surrounded by excitedly chattering theatregoers.  I walked through the Opera Bar on my way back to the train station.  It was just as crowded as it was before the play, and a small jazz combo was providing some seriously lively music.

As I continued on my way to Circular Quay, I became vaguely aware that it was starting to rain. Somehow, it was perfect.

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