A look at the making of “In the Next Room”

Ian Brinksman, staff writer.

With a title like “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play,” all manner of sexual images are immediately conjured for the Mason Players’ upcoming play.

“Don’t be scared when you see the title,” said Dramaturge Nadine Rousseau. “It’s really about relationships.”

Written in 2009 by playwright Sarah Ruhl, the play is set during the 1880s at the height of Victorian America.

The story unfolds in two rooms; a parlor and an operating theater. Dr. Givings, a reputable physician played by Justin Hashagen, specializes in the treatment of hysteria (a catch-all diagnosis given to women since the times of ancient Greece). Due to the common belief that hysteria originated from a woman’s ovaries, “treatment” typically involved genital stimulation. With the recent innovation of electricity, Dr. Givings is able to administer treatment with a new machine – essentially the ancestor of the modern vibrator. While Dr. Givings dutifully administers his treatment to his patients, his wife, Mrs. Givings (played by Stephanie Risch), languishes in the parlor, all the while desiring a fulfilling sexual life with her husband.

While sex is a theme in this play, it is not the central focus.

“Fundamentally this show is a comedy, with poignant moments that come from those comedic elements,” director, Ruthie Rado, said. “The innocence of these characters – not just the sexual moments – really resonates. Despite taking place in the Victorian era, modern audiences can really see themselves in it.”

There are a variety of themes that touched the actors.

“When I first read through the play, I was…uncomfortable,” actress Stephanie Risch said. “This isn’t what you’d typically see in a play. But we definitely got used to the material and made it our own: more subtle, natural, human and funny!”

Rado notes that many of the issues facing the characters will be familiar to modern audiences.

“Sarah Ruhl was very astute to notice there are traces of those Victorian expectations even in modern society – just a little more subtle,” Rado said. “Women are still too often expected to be all things to all people. ”

“In America there is still such a stigma on sex and it’s good for an American audience, college students in particular, to see a show like this that challenges some of those norms,” actor Justin Hashagen said.

The title, although suggestive, will hopefully attract audiences.

“I would hope Mason students are intrigued by it,” Rado said. “In the Next Room really is the perfect title; Mrs. Givings is always in the living room viewing the other room as having some magical quality. Only when entering it does the magic wash away and we’re left with something sterile and utilitarian. But ultimately, something real.”

Video by Hannah Menchhoff, Amy Podraza and editing by Kaelen Smith. Featured image by Amy Podraza.