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‘In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)’ satisfies

Published: April 20, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured, Top Stories

“In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)”: The show with two possible titles leaves the audience wondering what the show is about. It could either prove that the audience member in question has a dirty mind, or just prove that the audience member was naive in not expecting this from a Brandeis theater production. Either way, it was not what anyone expected, for better and for worse.

I personally imagined it to be a variant of “The Vagina Monologues,” with people standing on-stage clutching a dildo or vibrator and soliloquizing. Instead, “In the Next Room” put on by Brandeis Players was a tragic comedy featuring Leila Stricker ’13 as Mrs. Catherine Givings and Aaron Fischer ’15 as Dr. Givings in their half home, half doctor’s office. Dr. Givings specializes in treating hysteria with—you guessed it—a vibrator. Set in the late-1800s and early-1900s, electricity itself is a new concept, let alone a device used for sexual pleasure. The show depicts the vibrator using so much electricity, it sometimes causes the house’s electricity to shut off. Dr. Givings’ patients include Mrs. Daldry (Nicole Carlson ’14) and Leo Irving (Julian Seltzer ’15).

There are so many issues that go on in the play, it is hard to pin down what exactly the show is about. Catherine Givings is mildly crazed, full of energy and continuously looking forward to her husband’s next patient to show up so that she can have company. Catherine’s interactions with the patient Mrs. Daldry only focuses on their unstable marriage as they share how their interactions with the vibrator was something completely ineffable. When they do finally end up explaining their orgasms to Elizabeth (Sneha Walia ’15), Catherine’s wet nurse, it is clear that something is missing from their marriage. Catherine responds by flirting with every man she sees and trying to rouse a fight from her husband. Mrs. Daldry responds by pursuing Dr. Givings’ nurse Annie (Chastity DeLorme ’14). There are themes of loss, lack of identity, feminism and, underlying all of these, masturbation. There seems to be too many themes, however, to really feel any effect from the show.

This is not due to any weaknesses in acting. This show may have had one of the strongest casts of any Brandeis production this semester. Stricker was genuine as Mrs. Givings. Her character’s ups and downs made perfect sense in the context of the show, and it was very possibly due to the depth in her character. This was intensified when combined with Carlson as Mrs. Daldry. Their scenes together were possibly the best in the show. In one scene, the pair takes turns holding the vibrator for the other. Their chemistry was stronger than any other pair’s chemistry, especially stronger than the bond between Mrs. and Dr. Givings.

That was possibly the point that kept the show from truly succeeding. Although this is supposed to be a cold marriage lacking any sort of passion, there was just nothing that led the audience to believe that Mrs. and Dr. Givings actually ever cared about each other in their lives.

Though the two actors were dedicated to their characters, it was just difficult to pull off their relationship. This is a disappointment considering how well the cast did together and interacting otherwise. The only possible weak spot was Julian Seltzer ’15 as Leo Irving, another one of Dr. Givings’ patients. He does a lot better than he has done in other roles this semester, but he’s still spotty in some parts, which distracts from the overall flow of the show. Playing an Englishman, his accent gets way off course at times, sometimes divulging into an irate Irishman, only to bring it back with his charmingly awkward mannerisms. In general, however, the acting was spot-on, if not at times a little lackluster and messy.

Just walking into the theater, the show gives off the impression that it is a show you could not possibly hate. The set in itself is amazingly done, with the doctor’s office in “the next room” well built.

The actors smoothly travel through the set, and engage the audience immediately. The best part of the show though, is hands-down the costume. I applaud costume designer Grace Fosler ’14, as every single person’s outfits were beautifully designed and masterfully made. Not only did it go with the time period, but the clothing matched the characters correctly. Mrs. Daldry and Mrs. Givings were dressed in gorgeous gowns (that changed when appropriate!) and Leo Irving donned a beat-up jacket and cap that pretty much shouted “I’m a painter!”

All in all, “In the Next Room” is definitely good by Brandeis theater standards though not necessarily excellent. If someone moaning on-stage makes you uncomfortable, or you are thinking of bringing your grandma, think twice before seeing it. Otherwise, it is a perfectly fine show.