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Play hopes to stimulate discussion on 'discovery of love'

Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre producing artistic director Andrew S. Paul is always on the lookout for plays that can stimulate an audience, electrify conversation and create a buzz.

When he saw Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer finalist play "In the Next Room or the vibrator play" in a 2010 production at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, Calif., he thought it would arouse and satisfy ticket buyers.

But not in the ways you might expect from its title.

Ruhl's comedy was inspired by Dr. Rachel P. Maines' 1999 book "The Technology of Orgasm: 'Hysteria,' Vibrators and Women's Sexual Satisfaction."

"I don't think it's sensational at all. ... It's not pornographic or titillating," Paul says. "The play is about a subject (playwright George Bernard) Shaw would have embraced,"

Yes, the action of the play takes place in 1880 and focuses on a young doctor who treats his female patients' "hysteria" with a recently developed medical breakthrough -- an electric vibrator.

It's a period when Edison and Westinghouse were creating electrical and mechanical breakthroughs and women were discovering their sensuality.

Doctors of the period, unversed in the concept of female sensuality, used the vibrator as a legitimate treatment that was remarkably successful.

But while the doctor in the play may be satisfying his patients, he's less successful at making a connection with his wife.

Paul was eager to include a play by Ruhl whose works include "The Clean House" and "Dead Man's Cell Phone," which have been produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, Calif.

"She's a young writer not seen much in Pittsburgh, but an up-and-coming playwright," he says.

Paul also expects it will be a good fit for both his core audience -- those who prefer classics and serious dramas -- and young, single-ticket buyers who turned the company's recent productions of "Race" and "The Mask of Moriarty" into financial successes.

He also knows some people will avoid it because they think it will be pornographic.

"I wish those people would read the play," he says.

There's nothing crude or salacious about the play, says Alan Stanford, who is directing the production.

The women are being given a medical treatment, Stanford says. It's like going to the dentist for a routine treatment or having a boil lanced at your doctor's office.

"It's not a play about electrical devices. (That) is the mechanism about how discoveries are made -- what the human heart can do better than a machine," Stanford says. "The humor of the play is about sensuality. It's about love, the sensuality of love, a discussion of love. It's about a woman who cannot find a channel of love for her child or her husband. The journey of the play is the discovery of love."

It is a play for women. "But they should also drag their husbands, kicking and screaming," Stanford says. "And of course, my production will be done in the best possible taste."

At the movies

In May, movie audiences can explore the same topic from a different perspective when the romantic comedy "Hysteria" is released. Hugh Dancy stars as Mortimer Granville, the Victorian-era doctor who invents an electrically powered vibrator with the help of his wealthy friend, Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe, played by Rupert Everett. As Granville and his fellow physician Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), find their London female patient list growing, Granville also discovers himself falling for Dalrymple's daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Additional Information:

'In the Next Room or the vibrator play'

Produced by: Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre

When: Today through May 5 at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and May 5

Admission: $25-$48; discounts for seniors over 65 and youths under 26 with ID

Where: Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Ave, Oakland

Details: 412-394-3353 or www.picttheatre.org

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