The Buzz About ‘In the Next Room, or the vibrator play’
Theater and Performance Studies Program, Gonda Theatre

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Although it may seem atypical to bring a show about vibrators to a world-renowned Jesuit institution, that is exactly what the Theater and Performance Studies Program has done in its latest performance, “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play,” from award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Inspired by “The Technology of the Orgasm: ‘Hysteria,’ the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction” by Rachel P. Maines, the show is set during the advent of electricity following the Civil War. Dr. Givings, played by Alex Prout (COL ’19), is a specialist in gynecological disorders and an electricity enthusiast who, at the beginning of the story, has just recently invented what he believes to be the cure to female hysteria: the vibrator. The remainder of the show follows him, his wife and his clients as they discover their sexual and emotional desires.

Regarding his artistic vision for the show, director and professor Derek Goldman wanted to capture the attention of students and audiences.

“The vision was to sort of honor the play by engaging with students in a really humane way. I think it’s a play that invites us back to a moment in history that we don’t often think about: the dawning of technology and electricity being used in new ways,” Goldman said. “And it’s an eye-opener for people who don’t really think about the discovery of the vibrator as a historical moment … but it resonates in a very contemporary way.”

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Before the performance even begins, the ornate set captivates the audience. Featuring Dr. Givings’ in-home doctor’s study and the family room side by side, the scenery reflects Dr. Givings’ struggle to separate his professional and personal lives, and illustrates the distinct, Victorian divide between pleasurable and procreative sex that was prevalent in the 1880s.

Due to the small cast size, it is easy for the audience to become well-acquainted with the show’s dynamic and relatable characters. Mrs. Daldry, played by Healy Knight (COL ’20) is hysterical and confused, scared of her own body and unwilling to act on her desires after her treatments stop.

Her comically bumbling husband, portrayed by Charlie Trepany (COL ’19) means well but is oblivious to his wife’s needs and unhappiness. Other standout characters include the witty and dutiful assistant Annie, masterfully portrayed by Vanessa Chapoy (COL ’18), and an exuberantly dramatic Italian artist and patient, played by Alec Meguid (COL ’17). Nona Johnson (COL ’17), in the role of the poised and reserved wet nurse Elizabeth, embodies strength, duty and a commitment to family values, with which several of the other characters struggle.

Despite the splendid performances by the entire cast, it is Catherine Givings, portrayed by Michaela Farrell (COL ’18), who truly shines and forms a connection with the audience. A hopeless romantic and quiet rebel, Mrs. Givings struggles to be dutiful to her husband and child, as well as to herself. She finds it difficult to reconcile passion with responsibility and fails to receive from her husband the attention she desperately needs. In the end, Mrs. Givings is able to finally realize what is missing from her life, shake the shroud of duty, and rekindle the romance between herself and her husband. She serves as a model for self-love and discovery, which is what makes her so admirable.

“Mrs. Givings is entirely relatable: She is curious about love and determined to feel. The hard part was placing this desire and energy in a character who was living in a time when a woman’s voice had to take a backseat to a man’s,” Farrell said. “Playing a character that is a symbol for sexual gratification and gender equality yet equally constrained by patriarchal societal norms proved to be a balancing act for the ages.”

From a superficial glance, the show may appear to be about vibrators and paroxysms, but, at its core, “In the Next Room” is about discovery and fear of embracing the unknown.

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

COURTESY LESLIE E. KOSSOFF/GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

“Something that we’ve been talking about and working towards in rehearsal is the idea of discovery and the joy of coming to understand something new,” assistant director Katie Rosenberg (COL ’15) said. “As college students, we are in a time of great discovery in many ways, whether that’s in our academics, or in our social lives or in our personal lives.”

Goldman shares Rosenberg’s ideas about the theme of the performance and what audiences should take away from the show.

“For me, the show is about discovery in all of its forms. This play celebrates the discovery of what we already have that’s in our midst,” Goldman said. “One of the things that the students commented on in the rehearsal process is that ironically now we have access to everything on our phones and computers, but in a weird way we’re as estranged from ourselves as people were then.”

The final two showings of “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play” are tonight and tomorrow in the Gonda Theater. General admission tickets are $18, faculty, staff, alumni and senior tickets are $12, and student tickets are $7.

“In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play” runs in the Gonda Theatre. General admission tickets are $18. Faculty, staff, alumni and senior tickets are $12 and student tickets are $7. 

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One Comment

  1. Sherman Roberts says:

    I find it curious that sexual vibrators and ‘Jesuit’ institution are mentioned together in the opening sentence of this article, instead of GU being identified as a faithful Catholic institution. It seems the word ‘Jesuit’ has taken on a negative connotation, implying following the ways of the world (like in this show), instead of teaching the ways of God, & the way to eternal salvation.

    After all, our mortality rate on this earth is 100%, as will be our immortality rate when we pass on to be judged by our Creator, for eternity. God created marriage & sex as sacred and for procreation; He also made sex a pleasurable act only within the confines of marriage. He did not create sex for our entertainment. Ideas have consequences, good or bad, positive or negative.

    Does GU still teach good philosophy, like natural theology? What about revealed theology from professors who follow Ex Corde Ecclesiae? According to the great Dr. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, “Philosophy can lead you to God, and theology can lead you further into God….And God is the source of all truth, all goodness and all beauty; that is, of everything we value.”

    Shows like ‘vibrator’ could be viewed as ‘bad taste’ (the Vagina Monologues come to mind) and could certainly lead its viewers into sinful thoughts and acts contrary to the natural moral law, and the will of God as taught by His Catholic Church, and in Scripture.

    For example, masturbation is self-centered and frustrates the marital act; it is contrary to marriage, and a mortal sin which cuts one off from God. The show could conceivably be an occasion of sin by tempting viewers to commit adultery or fornication as well. God did not create us to do whatever we want, He created us to do what we ought to do for our own good, by loving and thanking Him.

    Also curious in ‘vibrator’ is a sketch of how men are seemingly continuously emasculated in our society today, as acted out by Mrs. Daldry’s bumbling & oblivious husband, & the lack of attention Dr. Givings gives his wife. This problem continues to be serious in America, and has been for two generations.

    Our culture demeans our boys and young men so that only a small percentage emerge into adulthood as strong, independent men who are able to take care of themselves and start families of their own. This needs to change for the benefit of all, and the survival of our nation. In the Book of Genesis, God created man, both male and female, equally and complementary to each other. We all need to remember that.

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