Review: ‘In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play’ Is A Powerful Dramedy 

Promotional flyer for the show./BC Theater Department

By Samia Afsar

 

   Women beware! Female hysteria is back in the BC Theater Department’s adaptation of  “In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play,” a play written by Sarah Ruhl and directed by Brooklyn-based theater director, Florence Le Bas. 

   “In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play,” which opened on Dec. 9 in the New Workshop Theater, is a lighthearted yet captivatingly beautiful dramedy set in Saratoga Springs just before the turn of the 19th century, in the dawn of electricity and societal modernity. 

   The story revolves around the distinguished but rather blunt and sexist Dr. Givings (Matthew Zimmerman) as he invents a device that he believes will cure hysteria in women. In doing so, he attempts to rid the town women and one man of excess bodily fluid, which he suspects is disturbing their daily duties. During his sessions, Dr. Givings places his vibrating device on, or in one case, in his patient’s most intimate parts, unbeknownst to him, introducing the world to the first vibrator.

   As he cures the townfolk plagued with hysteria, Dr. Givings and his wife, Mrs. Givings (Julieanna Stolley), navigate their own marital struggles as they hire Elizabeth (Nancy Umba), a wet nurse, to the Givings’ household. The couple aims to overcome together possible infidelities, bridle trust issues, and sentiments of loneliness, all while exploring the true meaning of love in this hilariously sensuous story of femininity and tragedy.

   With the play performed in a Black Box theater, which grants patrons the privilege to be up close to the actors, the BC student performances not only poured out passion but intimacy as well. An attribute parallel to the potent themes of Ruhl’s play, but more importantly, one that had audience members so deeply engrossed in their seats, laughing, cheering, and, even at times, tearing up. 

   Possibly the most captivating part of the entire play was the closing scene, where Mr. and Mrs. Givings finally set aside their marital quarrels and undressed each other in the garden outside of their home in an attempt to reignite their lost love. And with fake snowfall ever so gracefully falling right onto the stage, it was an exceptionally powerful conclusion.  

   It is no doubt that the BC Theater Department directs stellar productions, as they have proven to do so show after show. The actors’ performances appear to improve greatly with each production, not to imply that improvements were ever necessary, but instead admired and applauded. Still, perhaps the beauty of the department’s adaptation of “In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play” is the writing itself. 

   Although set almost 150 years before the modern day, Ruhl’s play is one that navigates patrons onto the hauntingly familiar journey most women face as they attempt to comprehend the complexities of their own womanhood. “In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play” is not merely a comedic story about multiple unwarranted female orgasms, but a tale depicting the virtues of divine femininity itself. 

   Ruhl’s play allows audiences to witness and reflect on the gap that still exists between men and women regarding marital responsibilities and societal taboos related to sexuality. It is a story that the BC theater department, under the direction of Bas, executed with such precision and beauty that it left theatergoers yearning for more. 

  

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