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The funny sweet adult play with the awkward name

Reduxion Theatre Company has produced a real winner with “In the Next Room” by Sarah Ruhl. Except that’s not the whole name of the play—the second part uses a word that some people find uncomfortable.

There is nothing awkward about the play or this production; it’s actually delightfully funny and sweetly moving—although not appropriate for young children.  

Set in America of the 1880s, when mainstream medical science believed that women could not feel sexual pleasure, the occasional “paroxysm” that women experienced was instead seen as a therapeutic action of the body to clear out “blockages” in the reproductive organs. Electricity paved the way for doctors to more easily administer therapy for the ailment of “hysteria”—women exhibiting symptoms of what is now called either depression, anxiety or being human. 

Ruhl has written a very funny, and in the end touching, script about this medical infantilizing of women, and it has been delicately painted in bright colors by director Tonia Sina, Reduxion’s new artistic director. Sina takes over from founding artistic director Tyler Woods, who moves to the job of executive director. 

Sina, who is also an internationally known choreographer of intimacy for the stage, has directed her pitch-perfect cast in a truly lovely production. In the preview performance, the cast’s struggles with period clothing (all correctly worn and used throughout) emphasized the bondage of a culture that sees women as sexually neutral and men as sexually predacious. Many of our current attitudes can be traced to this dichotomy, and Sina uses Gilded Age social mannerisms to lightly lift our own biases up for examination. There are many sexual references in the text, and the physical interactions are beautifully staged, often funny and never gratuitous.

In the primary role of Mrs. Catherine Givings, who is a wife and new mother, Lia Oldham personified a delightfully energetic frustration and curiosity. Catherine has a number of issues to deal with, and Oldham showed us a woman who is superficially cheerful while her private frustrations are deeper and more threatening to her sense of self.

Keegan Zimmerman plays Dr. Givings, the man with the machine. Zimmerman delivered the professional manners and formal exterior of a Gilded Age physician, which also supported the perfect deadpan delivery of some of the funniest language in the play.  Zimmerman’s emotional range, only hinted at in the early part of the play, was more fully revealed toward the end in scenes both comical and moving.

Jennifer Farley gave a thoughtful and restrained performance as Sabrina Daldry, the “hysterical” patient under treatment. Farley successfully embodied all the wrappings, both physical and social, that bound women of that time; she revealed a well employed and wide range of expression.

Mariah Warren as Elizabeth, who is housekeeper to the Daldrys and wetnurse for the Givings, used body language and a very focused vocal range to tell us everything we wish we didn’t know about how women of color were treated in this period. Warren has a very difficult role to navigate: Elizabeth knows what those “paroxysms” might be, but social boundaries limit her ability to share with her white female employers.

Annie, a midwife and assistant to Dr. Givings, was very sweetly portrayed by Rodonna Carter; her period manners and presence were crucial to mood and story. Chase Bradshaw, as Leo Irving, the rare male “hysteria” patient and amorous portrait artist, was amusingly continental in his dress and manners; Leo’s interactions with Catherine and Elizabeth introduce new ideas and trouble the domestic waters.  Mr. Daldry, Sabrina’s husband, was played with distinguished repression by David Pasto; Daldry’s initial concern for his wife gives way to affronted disapproval at slight social provocations.

Chris Evans’ set design made excellent use of the deep thrust Cityspace stage; Mitchell Laflin’s lighting complemented the set and period. Costumes by Stephanie Sandidge with assistance from Amy Kercher, as well as set dressing and properties by Catherine Pitt, were all true to period, leaving the audience undistracted by out-of-place elements. 

“In the Next Room” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 25 at the Cityspace Theater in the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. There is an additional matinee on Saturday, June 25. For tickets, contact Reduxion Theatre at (405) 604-4730 or check the website at