Playwright Sarah Ruhl (image source: TimeOut New York)
According to NPR, Ruhl draws most of her inspiration from a variety books ranging from Goodnight Moon to Adrienne Kennedy’s works such as Funnyhouse of a Negro. The fact that her inspiration comes from such an array of canons explains the surreal nature of her work.
Dead Man’s Cell Phone, one of Ruhl’s most acclaimed works, exemplifies her unusual, dreamlike writing style. The main character, Mary-Louise Parker, answers a man’s cell phone (who happens to be dead) and embarks on a journey where she develops a relationship with this static figure.
In The Next Room, or the vibrator play appears to be more naturalistic than Ruhl’s other plays, but she reasons in her interview with Raven Snook that even though the play doesn’t go into, “the afterlife or some strange metaphysical place…The subject matter is so challenging—you know, orgasms, vibrators—that [she] wanted the form to be stable.”
In another interview with Brendan Lemon of The Financial Times, she explains that she “didn’t want the play to be too knowing” since present-day medicine views orgasms and hysteria through less innocent and more biological lens than 19th century medicine.
Even though the play is set in the 19th century, Ruhl explains that it is still a commentary about present day sexuality. She explains how it is, “impossible to write about the past and not write about the present, because [she is] in the present, so [she is] always commenting from a distance.”
So obviously this play is about much more than vibrators. It is a social commentary on women’s sexuality woven into a lesson on 19th century medicine.
To read the two interviews in their entirety, visit: Raven Snook interview; Brendan Lemon interview