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Review: Hysteria

Tanya Wexler's enjoyable, fictionalized period piece
By ANN LEWINSON  |  June 5, 2012
3.0 3.0 Stars

Struggling physician Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) has struck pay dirt assisting Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose London waiting room is packed with bourgeois housewives suffering from "hysteria." But when all that "vulvar massage" gives Mortimer a case of carpal tunnel, he turns to his best friend, gentleman inventor and "deviant" Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett), whose electric feather-duster might do the trick. Tanya Wexler's enjoyable, fictionalized period piece, which has no connection to Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room(or The Vibrator Play), begins as a smug comedy about repressed Victorians but turns into something more provocative — particularly for women who came of age in the era of do-me feminism — as Mortimer meets a settlement house director (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who teaches him that "paroxysms" aren't a high priority when you don't have food, shelter, or affordable health care.

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