Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Oh, the Great and Wonderful "O" !

C-Man and I had a great night out on Saturday.  We went to  ACT Theater to see Sara Ruhl's new play, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.  (Yes, that kind of vibrator!).  The play is set in the 1880's, the Victorian era and dawn of the new electrical age.   At that time, "women's sexuality" was barely acknowledged, let alone understood.  In the Victorian mind, women were considered innocent creatures, not burdened with the base, coarse desires of men.   Sex was inflicted upon them by their husbands, but they endured it out of wifely obligation and the need to become mothers. The Victorians still held onto the idea established in ancient Greece that a woman's "wandering womb" was responsible for many typical feminine complaints:  fatigue, restlessness, depression, anxiety, over- sensitivity, and countless physical symptoms as well.  In other words, women suffered from "hysteria."

What I didn't know was that, in fact, the early days of electricity did bring about a new treatment for hysteria - the vibrator.   Certain more progressive physicians found that a release of "pelvic congestion" could alleviate these symptoms almost immediately.   In the play, this curious device looked like a tire iron with a flattened rubber ball on the end of it.  The doctor would very unceremoniously place the knob atop the woman's nether regions, take out his pocket watch, and time the impending "paroxysm."  This release of congestion was frequently accompanied by rapid, heavy breathing, racing hearts, loud moans, lightning flashes behind the eyes, and often tears, laughter, or sudden appeals to God.  Of course, treatments would need to continue on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.  The bewildered patients did not object!  And the husbands could see results right away:  "My dear, the roses have returned to your cheeks!"  

So this play focuses on one such doctor, his patients, his own repressed and frustrated wife, and several other characters with issues of their own.  It is a thoroughly delightful and poignant look at intimacy, love, and marriage, among other things.  One thing we both appreciated about this play is that while wildly funny (dare I say, "hysterical"?), it never mocks any of the characters or the ignorance of their time.  Everyone in the audience knows what the characters don't, but we see them in a very loving, sympathetic light.  When you think about it, it's not hard to understand why early societies were so flummoxed by this paroxysm in females.  It involved the sex organs, but had absolutely nothing to do with reproduction!  Wha ???  There's also a collective sense of relief among the audience that sex is no longer such a dark mystery.

And yet .... it got me thinking about my own discovery of sex, the woman's orgasm in particular.  When I learned about sex from my parents, the word "orgasm" was never mentioned.  I had a vague knowledge that women could have them, but my definition of the event was WAY off.  I saw that my education about sex was not actually about "sex," it was about reproduction.  Even with a liberal, let-it-all-hang-out, semi-hippy mother, and a physician father, I'd have to figure it out through experience.   And now it has occurred to me, somewhat to my horror, that I've never discussed orgasm with my own daughter.  "Ejaculation," yes - but the other .....?  No, not once.   (Really?  Really.  Not once, and she's already 18.)   These Victorian embarrassments are still with us, or at least, some of us.  Maybe it's time I take her out to a play.  I wonder if The Vagina Monologues is showing anywhere .... ?  By the way, local peeps, ACT is running this show until August 28th.  Grab your loved ones and go see it!

1 comment:

Corwin Haeck said...

Great review! But I'm a little embarrassed. Can we change the subject?