TheatreVCU feels the vibration “In the Next Room”

Photo by Brooke Marsh
“In the Next Room” tells the story of Dr. Givings’ wife Catherine, who is sexually restricted while her husband uses his vibrator invention to treat women for hysteria upstairs. Photo by Brooke Marsh
Photo by Brooke Marsh
“In the Next Room” tells the story of Dr. Givings’ wife Catherine, who is sexually restricted while her husband uses his vibrator invention to treat women for hysteria upstairs. Photo by Brooke Marsh

TheatreVCU’s latest mainstage production gives students the rare opportunity to watch their peers orgasm on stage.

“In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)” details the story of a Victorian-era doctor who utilizes the advent of electricity to treat female hysteria. The play opened last Thursday and explores topics of feminine sexuality, and its notable absence of mention within society.

Jan Powell is the show’s guest director and the artistic director for Quill Theatre, the troupe that hosts Richmond’s annual Shakespeare Festival.

“I knew the show, I loved the show,” Powell said. “It’s hilarious, it’s heartbreaking, it’s provocative–but in a really powerful way.”

Despite the show’s overt sexuality, as evidenced by the conspicuous title, Powell said the production requires the audience to look between the lines.

Sarah Ruhl, the play’s writer, has created many works which examine similar topics and has been presented the Macarthur Fellowship and multiple Whiting Awards for her works. Powell said she was excited to direct a play by such a notable writer.

“It brilliantly uses this time when any malady a woman had could be diagnosed as hysteria,” Powell said. “This was a time when women’s’ sexuality, which is a very healthy part of being alive, was not considered something women had or owned or thought about, or should think about.”

As the show unfolds, Catherine, the protagonist and wife of Dr. Givings, is dissatisfied with the sexual performance of her husband while simultaneously intrigued by the clinical work he conducts the floor above their apartment.

Catherine notices that Dr. Givings’ invention and use of the vibrator to treat women for hysteria and other ailments is met with much success upstairs while she is restricted in her sexual freedom just a floor below.

“I’m not the kind of person to get uncomfortable with these kinds of topics, I like to have fun with these kind of things,” said Denver Crawford, the actor who plays Dr. Givings in the show.

“Working on a show where I get to give multiple women many an orgasm is both frightening and a lot of fun.”

Crawford credited Powell’s direction for keeping the show focused, mature and intelligent. Powell similarly said she was impressed by the great maturity and enthusiasm of VCU’s actors.

“This is a cast of people, most of whom I’d never met before … and the maturity level was astonishing,” Powell said.

“These are actors who will jump on the bed and have the orgasm.”

Powell said the show goes beyond the shock value of its sexuality, however.

“There are gender issues, but it’s not about heterosexual love,” Powell said. “It’s about women but it’s also about men. It’s really talking about that kind of all-encompassing need …and I think that’s what makes the play very modern.”

Powell said she was happy with the intellectual discussions she had with the cast about the social implications of their character’s actions, and the importance of telling this story.

The play’s sound director, Katharine Fraser, was the person tasked with creating the sound of the two vibrators used onstage.

“I had to look up so many different kinds of vibrators,” Fraser said. “My search history is disgusting right now. I did some field recordings of real vibrators so that I could understand how the sound changed when it touches flesh versus when it’s in the air.”

The show promises to an experience full of social commentary, uncomfortable laughter and revelations about human sexuality and desire that, despite taking place in the late 19th century, are still applicable today.

“Oh, my parents are coming the show,” said Katie Cairns, the assistant stage manager. “They’re super excited about it.”


Spectrum Editor, Austin Walker

Austin Walker, photo by Brooke MarshAustin is a sophomore print journalism major. He started at the CT as a contributing writer, and frequently covers work done by artists and performers both on and off campus. He hopes to one day be a columnist writing about art that impacts culture, politics and documenting the lives of extraordinary and everyday people. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

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