Ohio University’s Division of Theatre kicked off its 2017 fall season with a hilariously intriguing, well performed, and well displayed production of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play.
The Vibrator Play was written by Sarah Ruhl in the early 2000s as a comedy exploring themes of sex, gender, relationships, and societal roles in 19th century America. The play quickly gained traction for its comedic dialogue and examination of romantic intimacy with three Tony Award nominations in 2010.
Ohio University’s Theatre Department kept up these expectations.
At the don of electricity, the play chronicles the early history of the vibrator as a clinical device used to treat (mostly) women with hysteria. It surveys the marriages of two couples- Dr. Givings (Brian Epperson) and his wife, Catherine Givings (Annie Ganousis), as well as a patient, Mrs. Daldry (Ellie Clark) and her husband (Timothy Ashby).
Additional characters include the doctor’s female assistant, a boisterous male artist, and a wet nurse.
With a total of just seven actors between two rooms on set, the play says and does more than imaginable.
The stage is split between a parlor room and Dr. Givings’ clinic, with action happening simultaneously on each side. This provides viewers with the constant perspective of what’s happening “in the next room,” while the characters are often shut out and left to their own curiosity.
This physical barrier to what’s going on offers the perfect metaphor for the entire play: The barrier between intimacy and love, and the difficulty in breaking down the wall of expectations and roles in stuffy, Puritan America.
This can be seen with each character’s ignorance to sexual satisfaction, as a major premise of the play is to administer vibrating “treatment” for the purpose of releasing mental tension through orgasm.
Ironically, the characters find that releasing tension through a detached, mechanically manipulated orgasm creates more tension, leaving each longing for true love and human to human connection.
Perhaps Catherine Givings’ character displays this frustration most notably. Played brilliantly by Annie Ganousis, the free-spirited, quick-witted, character finds herself doubting the social expectations set upon her, desperately longing for more than just motherhood. Her fiery spirit makes us question the oppression of women in this time, while keeping us hopeful of change.
Her husband, played by Brian Epperson, says simply that he is a “man of science,” and at one point tells Catherine that he does not know what to say about love as that is a “job for poets.” This places him in an equally limiting gender role, bringing to light discord on both ends.
Furthermore, the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Daldry is as tense and disconnected as it gets, and the stories and personalities of the artist, doctor’s assistant, and wet-nurse, feed brilliantly into themes of struggle, passion, and detachment.
Each member of the cast performed with convincing emotion, and impeccable comedic timing, bringing Sarah Ruhl’s words to light with the utmost grace.
Oh, and did I mention that the set actually rotates?
As it’s constantly moving, every audience member will have a different perspective of each scene. And since every detail is shown, the characters are left fully exposed and vulnerable at all times.
The brilliance in displaying a rotating set for a play whose timing took place at the advent of electricity is just another cheeky aspect of The Vibrator Play that makes it all the worthwhile to see.
In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play successfully examines the heaviness of sexism, intimacy, frustration, and ignorance with a farcical skill that keeps audiences both entertained and thoughtful. It may even shock some.