Inside D.C. entertainment

Maggie Gyllenhaal's 'Hysteria' vs. 'The Vibrator Play'

August 26, 2010 - 08:00 AM
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Maggie Gyllenhaal at the 82nd Academy Awards. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

The recent announcement that Maggie Gyllenhaal was cast in Hysteria, a film about the Victorian-era invention of the vibrator, may have sounded awfully familiar - kind of like In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, a play about the Victorian-era invention of the vibrator, now playing at Woolly Mammoth.

But producer Judy Cairo (of Informant Media, which also produced Gyllenhaal’s film Crazy Heart), says that the film was not inspired by the play and that they have only the Victorian-era vibrator in common. The original screenplay, written by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer, focuses on the inventor of the vibrator, rather than a doctor who administers it to patients, as Ruhl’s Pulitzer-finalist play does. The biggest difference between the two productions, says Cairo, is tone.

“It is very much a romantic comedy from beginning to end,” says Cairo. “The Vibrator Play has a serious tone. This is a comedy in the vein of Shakespeare in Love.

In the film, Gyllenhaal plays Charlotte, the daughter of a doctor played by Jonathan Pryce. She falls for a young doctor named Mortimer Granville, played by Hugh Dancy, who administers her treatments for hysteria, a catch-all term for women’s maladies that was thought to be cured by orgasm. Cairo says they will begin to film in October, and the film will be released in 2011.

When Gyllenhaal learned about the role, “She immediately responded in a delighted way,” says Cairo. “The character Charlotte is perfect for Maggie because she is spirited and ahead of her time. Maggie is going to be phenomenal.”

As for The Vibrator Play, Cairo says she doesn’t know if Ruhl knows about the film. But Cairo has seen and enjoyed the New York run of The Vibrator Play.

“We were well into our script [then],” says Cairo. “It was developed several years ago, with [co-producer] Tracey Becker, before anyone had any knowledge of the play.”

The timing of both productions does not surprise her, Cairo says, because it was only a matter of time before this unusual and forgotten piece of history rose back to the surface.

“I think it’s such an intriguing piece of history,” says Cairo. “it is not surprising that it would inspire both [productions]. Our film is using the same kernel of history as the play, but in a different fashion.”

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