Austin College Announces Theatre Production
SHERMAN, TEXAS—The Austin College theatre program will present Sarah Ruhl’s comedy In the Next Room or the vibrator play, April 17–19 at 7:30 p.m. in Ida Green Theatre of Ida Green Communication Center. The production, directed by Dr. Vanessa Baker, adjunct assistant professor of theatre, is open to the general public. Tickets, $8 or free with Austin College ID, will be available at the door. Additional pay-what-you-can donations, both cash and canned goods, are welcomed and will benefit organizations in the local community that support women in need.
The play, according to the director, is “stimulating, engaging, touching, intelligent, and funny.” It tells the story of Catherine Givings, the wife of a successful doctor specializing in the emerging field of gynecology. Set in New York in the newly electrified 1880s, at a time when “hysteria” was understood as a nervous disease rampant among upper-class ladies, In the Next Room is a fictional story, but portrays real historical events: the invention of the “electrical stimulating machine” (what is now called a vibrator) as a medical tool used to treat hysteria. Due to the play’s sexual themes and brief nudity, it is best suited for mature high school students and all adults.
However, despite the suggestive title, the vibrator play isn’t really all about sex, Baker said. She explained that, “in fact, the ‘stimulating machine’ used by Dr. Givings was simply a scientific, electrical version of the therapies that doctors had been prescribing for hysterical women since the Greeks, and was no more controversial or lascivious than a thermometer or a stethoscope. Instead, Ruhl’s play asks us to consider how technology, machines, and invention can come to replace human relationships—and how they might also draw us together.”
Moreover, for the director, the play is about intimacy, the meaning of love, and the human need for true relationships with others: men and women, family, and friends. “During the play, as Mrs. Givings becomes more and more curious about what happens behind the closed door of her husband’s operating theatre, she finds herself longing for intimate, honest connections with the people around her,” Baker said. ”The broken taboo in In the Next Room isn’t the use of the vibrator; it’s this corseted, buttoned-up Victorian lady’s honest plea to her distracted, scientific husband: ‘Love me. Love me for your job.’”
Senior Lizzy Lincoln of Round Rock, Texas, plays Mrs. Catherine Givings; senior Cody Edwards of Eastland, Texas, plays her husband, Dr. Givings. Junior Anika Payne of Fort Worth, Texas, and sophomore Greyson Sanders of Springfield, Ohio, play the “hysterical” patient Sabrina Daldry and her husband. Junior Epiphany Arvie of Grand Prairie, Texas, takes the role of Elizabeth, the wet nurse; sophomore Kendall Nibert of Houston, Texas, is the supportive midwife assistant, Annie; and senior Conner Skinner of Hallsville, Texas, plays the painter and hysteria-sufferer Leo Irving.
Sophomore Johanna Hunter of Whitewright, Texas, serves as the stage manager for the production, supported by assistant stage managers Caroline Hodge, a freshman from Dallas, Texas, and Tabatha Keton, a sophomore from Baytown, Texas. Costume designer is senior Jessica Pehrson of Rancho Santa Margarita, California; props designer is sophomore Lindsey Womack of Austin, Texas; and sound designer is sophomore Reed Cook of Owasso, Oklahoma. Set designer is Liz Banks, assistant professor of theatre, and Dan Pucul serves as technical director for the production and for Ida Green Theatre. Lights are designed by guest artist Jonathan Felt.
“Part of what makes this such a great show for Austin College is that it is so deeply interdisciplinary,” Baker said. “It is a rollicking good story about medicine, love and marriage, and sexuality at the dawn of the Electrical Age, and as such it intertwines theatre and literature with biology, sociology, psychology, religion, engineering, and history. The play will appeal to students interested in any of those fields—as well as anyone who is or has ever been in a relationship, or who seeks connection with others.” With a wink, she added, “Or, of course, anyone who enjoys or wishes to know more about the electrical stimulating machine.”
Special events will follow each night’s performance. On Thursday, April 17, senior Stephanie Schultz of Whitewright, Texas, the play’s researcher and dramaturg, will lead a discussion featuring invited “guest experts” as respondents. On Friday, April 18, the show is running as a double-bill, featuring a performance by the Austin College Improv Troupe. Following the show on Saturday, April 19, guests are invited to stay for a celebratory Gala Reception.
In the Next Room or the vibrator play was nominated as the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and was selected as a Finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 36 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of 1,250 students and a faculty of more than 100 allows a 12:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.