The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater will present a production of Sarah Ruhl’s 2009 play, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, set in the late Victorian era at the dawn of the electrical age when a new medical device was invented to treat female “hysteria.”  Performances are on March 8, 9, 13, 14, and 15 at 8:00 p.m. at the Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center. The production is directed by senior theater student Sarah Hedgecock and features senior theater students Taylor Mallory as Catherine Givings and Sarah Paton as Sabrina Daldry.

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play centers on a gentleman physician, Dr. Givings, and his wife, Catherine, a new mother. The doctor has pioneered a new medical device powered by the recent innovation of electricity to treat his female — and in rare cases male — patients suffering a range of symptoms, common at the time to be attributed to “hysteria.” As the sounds of Dr. Givings’ contented patients in his examination room reach his young wife in their parlor on the other side of the door, her curiosity is piqued about what exactly is going on in the next room. When a new “hysterical” patient and her husband bring a wet nurse for the new baby and their own complicated relationship into the doctor’s home, Dr. and Mrs. Givings must examine the nature of their own marriage and what it truly means to love someone.

Students in the Program in Theater complete a senior thesis project in fulfillment of the requirements for a certificate, similar to a minor, and which is in addition their major area of concentration.

Both Hedgecock and Mallory were interested in tackling a comedy for their senior project, finding Ruhl’s sophisticated wit particularly appealing. Mallory wrote about the play for her junior independent work, arguing that the vibrator is a device that empowers the female characters, but also reveals to them the unhappy truths of their lives and marriages.   In discussing their collective approach to the play as director and actor, they agreed that relevant themes they wanted to explore were the difference between love and intimacy and, as true today as in the Victorian setting of the play, how technology affects relationships.

“As an anthropology major with a particular interest in human sexuality,” notes Hedgecock, “I am strongly drawn to In the Next Room as an examination of how people viewed themselves and their sexuality before the normalization of sex in American society. College is an experience brimming with social and sexual experiences, as well as technological dependence.”

“What immediately attracted me to this play and to the role of Catherine Givings,” explains Mallory, a comparative literature major, “was Ruhl’s ability to address modern issues through the lens of a vastly different time and context.   These characters choose to treat their anxieties with a vibrator rather than discuss them with each other .   Buto ver the course of the play, we realize how much their insecurities and issues look like our own, and how little our understanding of sexuality and intimacy has come in the last hundred years. I immediately connected to Catherine, because she is the first to notice that things should be different, and is brave enough to voice her discontent.”

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play premiered in February 2009 at Berkley Repertory Theatre and received a Broadway production later that year at Lincoln Center Theater, starring Laura Benanti as Mrs. Givings, and was nominated for three Tony Awards including Best Play. Since then the play has been produced at theaters throughout the U.S., in Australia, New Zealand, and South America.

In addition to Mallory and Paton, the all-student cast includes: Ben Barron ’13, Caroline Hertz ’15, Philip Rosen ’14, Oge Ude ’16, and JJ Warshaw ’14. Professional designers include sets by Anya Klepikov and costumes by Kristin Fiebig. Lighting is designed by Laura Hildebrand ’14; Tessa Maurer ’13 serves as stage manager.

Event Information

Fri Mar 8, 2013 · 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center

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