PW presents ‘In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play’

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In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, which opens tonight at 8:00 p.m. and runs through Monday, October 21st, is on the surface a rollicking comedy—a story of sex and deceit with a good dose of physical and slapstick humor and witty retorts. However, around fifteen minutes in, you begin to realize In the Next Room is not merely a wildly entertaining, 21st-century Oscar Wilde-esque play, but a modern feminist manifesto.

Directed masterfully by Karin Nilo ’14 and written by Sarah Ruhl ’97 MFA ’01, In the Next Room is set in Victorian-era New York and follows Mrs. Givings, a woman whose husband treats female (and later male) patients for hysteria using the vibrator, and Mrs. Daldry, one of Dr. Givings patients, as they discover their sexuality and slowly take control of their bodies.

The show rests on the trusty shoulders of a fantastic ensemble cast, who are especially masterful at evoking tension and extreme discomfort, both in comic and dramatic moments. Each actor uses the restraints of the period, a time in which discussing sex was ludicrously taboo and propriety ruled social conventions, to his or her advantage. Because so much must go unsaid, the actors’ facial expressions, awkward silences, and constant sexual innuendo hoist the comedy beyond merely clever dialogue—of which there is also an abundance.

While scenes between Leo (Michael Weisman ’17), a brooding and radical painter and patient of Dr. Givings, and Mrs. Givings (Natalie McDonald ’15) or Elizabeth (Jenna Spencer ’14) are bubbling with delightful and unrelenting sexual tension, the scenes featuring solely women contain a tenderness and truth that drive the heart and soul of the show. The female characters are clearly undergoing identity crises. Bored, lonely, and rarely stimulated (both intellectually and sexually), the conversations amongst Mrs. Givings and Mrs. Landry (Emma Johnson ’14) and Elizabeth sound more like deeply felt ruminations on what it means to be a woman. Led by Johnson’s constant and terrific intensity, encounters amongst the women range from ridiculous and inane to heartbreaking and full of pathos.

A subtle yet integral anchor throughout the female-driven scenes is Dr Givings’ assistant Annie (Michelle Migliori ’14). Though seemingly tame, Migliori infuses the character with deadpan wit reminiscent of Aubrey Plaza.

The men, on the other hand, are too busy to notice their wives’ life-altering discoveries. Dr. Givings (Simon Henriques ’15) is hilariously obsessed with electricity and would make rather talk of those sparks than create some of his own with his wife. Mr. Daldry (Sam Lanier ’15) is a Victorian version of a frat boy—constantly thinking of sex and flirting with other women. Lanier pulls this persona off with heightened but acute accuracy.

Although it’s hard for us Brown students to envision a time when female sexuality was ignored, Nilo would argue it still isn’t spoken about enough. When asked why she thought it was the perfect time to produce this play at Brown, Nilo said, “Since being at Brown, there have been two shows about women and how they interact. That’s not enough.”

She also noted that we still have a ways to go. “While this show deals with the history of a pathology surrounding female sexuality, I think this history still exists. The discussion of female sexuality isn’t where it should be,” she said.

However, those expecting a dissertation on the female orgasm have misunderstood the purpose of the play. By using comedy, In the Next Room avoids sermonizing the audience and hitting them over the heads with an agenda. It makes discourse about the complex gender dynamics present throughout the play enjoyable.

That being said, there’re surely a lot of female (and male!) orgasms onstage. While neighbors may think the deafening sound they hear is a banshee, an ape, a yodeler, a cat meowing, a panting runner or a sobbing child, it’s merely one of the many characters who, using the handy-dandy machine, induce an orgasm onstage. The actors are fearless, to say the least, in replicating this experience. There’s a reason it’s on Family Weekend…

To reserve tickets online, visit PW’s website. Tickets are also at the door an hour before each show.

Image via.

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