Saturday, November 21, 2009

Breastfeeding & Race Intersect in New Play

While listening to NPR on our way to the mall this morning, a piece came on about playwright Sarah Ruhl's new play, In the Next Room. Also known as "the vibrator play," In the Next Room is the story of Dr. Givings, a 19th century physician who cures "hysteria" in women by giving them orgasms with a curious electrical device. Dr. Givings administers this treatment while his wife sits in the parlor with their newborn baby, wondering what is going on.

I was sort of paying attention to the radio while playing with my cell phone, but my interest was piqued when I heard that Ruhl wrote the play while she was breastfeeding her baby and found herself interested in the topic of wet nursing and decided to include it in the story line. When Mrs. Givings has difficulty breastfeeding her baby, she and Dr. Givings hire an African-American woman to come and nurse her.

Ruhl says her play is about "how we separate out bodily functions and labor and love." She says she's intrigued by "this notion of paying someone to do something that, ideally, one does for one's own child — or paying a doctor for the sexual treatment that ideally your partner is giving you in a more intimate way. So it's all these questions of intimacy."

I got a sense from the review of the play in the NY Times that the subject of race is broached tangentially, and since the play is a comedy, I can imagine it's not the focus of the plot. I still think the idea of exploring this type of working relationship really fascinating. Does anyone know if there's a novel or play about a white woman and her black wet nurse? If so, please send it my way.

Anyway, if you are lucky enough to live in New York, the play is running at the Lyceum
until January. If you can't make it to the play, you can check out a clip below.

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