If you haven't yet done so, follow Jon Carroll's advice and see "In the Next Room" at the Berkeley Rep. It closes March 15th. This delightful new play by Sarah Ruhl, set in the 1880's, is less a historical reconstruction of that period than a bemused examination, from our 21st century vantage, of the mores of our predecessors. The denial by the nineteenth century medical establishment that the use of electric vibrators to treat 'hysteria' was connected in any way with normal sexuality or, god forbid, might serve as a tool for liberating female sexuality strikes us as extremely odd. Sarah Ruhl probes this conundrum with gentle humor.
So of what truths is our 'enlightened age' in complete denial? I can think of one or two that will undoubtedly provide grist for future generations of playwrights - if we're still around in a 125 years! .
I had the pleasure of being shadowed for a couple of afternoons by actor Joaquin Torres who was preparing for his role in the play as the English oil painter, Leo Irving, just returned from Florence. My son remarked wryly when we viewed the play that I was the perfect object of study for this role - being an English oil painter obsessed with Florentine culture!
Madelaine Oldham ( Berkeley Rep's 'dramaturg') put me in touch with Joaquin who expressed a desire to observe me in action. I gave him my street painting schedule. He caught up with me at the Old Oakland Farmers' Market one Friday as I was working on this painting.
Joaquin didn't betray his presence until he'd had the opportunity to study me surreptitiously for some time. When he introduced himself I was impressed both by his charm and his penetrating intelligence. It was an odd experience for someone who spends his time observing and delineating others to be the object of such intense scrutiny.
He joined me for an afternoon on Bernal Hill where he grilled me on technique and art history.
At my suggestion he also attended a painting class. He proved to be a 'quick study' mastering basic concepts in a nonce. We were both sorry that his rehearsal and performance schedule didn't allow him to continue his painting.
I didn't recognize much of myself in Joaquin's portrayal of the flamboyant Leo Irving though my son claimed that he'd adopted several of my mannerisms in the painting scene. I was impressed by his complete assumption of the role of painter. I also appreciated the way Sarah Ruhl had made this willfully eccentric artist the catalyst who precipitates a moment of clarity that frees Cathrine Givings to speak and act her truth.