Erin Kennedy | Posted on November 20, 2019
or the vibrator play
In The Next Room or the vibrator play is a UIC student production of a largely known play on the origin and first use of the vibrator. This is art in its natural habitat. It will make you uncomfortable and you will wonder why you’re sitting there in the audience, but then that’s exactly why you’re there. Because it’s not art if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable. Art should make you think about situations and circumstances. Productions at UIC tend to be socially charged and make the audience really take it in for its entirety, so this was no different.
In the Next Room is set in a smaller town on the outskirts of New York, in the late 1800s. The costume shop and designers do a wonderful job of really portraying this setting through the costumes along with the set designers with the set. You are really able to see that it is a completely different century. Alongside these characteristics, the actors have a hint of a Victorian-era accent in their voices. One that is very proper and poised and just oozes social status.
This play is a very thought-provoking and confusing one. It is considerably more graphic than I had first imagined. Bear in mind that this is called In the Next Room or the vibrator play, and it literally is about the first use of the vibrator to “cure sick individuals.” It is definitely a play for a mature audience as it is surprisingly graphic. There is no nudity, but it has everything except. This review will have spoilers because there’s just a lot to unpack in terms of the overall theme and symbolism behind this production. It is definitely worth attending though, because of how heavy the topics are.
As far as acting goes, it is fantastic. The actors and actresses are phenomenal at casting their voice and making you believe they are the character they are trying to portray. Along with the acting, the set is beautiful. On the set, there are numerous lamps. There were at least seven lamps in the main area of the set, three of which were hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers. On the far left and right sides, there were four lamps beside the seats in which the actors would sit when they weren’t needed on the main stage. The coolest part of the play that I really got a kick out of were the times when the actors would say “on” or “off” and then the lights on the sides would turn on or off accordingly. The electric planning was honestly really cool.
During the heavier moments of the play, there was a very bass-heavy tune that would come over the speakers and these lights would go to the beat of the tune. I thought that was a very nice artistic touch to add to the overall ambiance of the play.
Dr. and Mrs. Givings
The main characters of this production were Dr. and Mrs. Givings. This pairing goes through a whirlwind of emotions throughout the entirety of the play. The play ends with these two characters in a loving embrace with each other inside Mrs. Givings’ winter garden while it snows.
They have a newly born child in this play, but because of problems that Mrs. Givings has with producing breast milk for her child, they hire a ‘wet nurse’ as it’s called in the play. The character’s name is Elizabeth, and basically, her job is to feed the Givings’ child because Elizabeth’s child recently died and she still has breast milk that is being produced by her body, but she has no baby to feed. The relationship between Mrs. Givings and Elizabeth is rocky at first because Mrs. Givings wants to be able to feed her own child because there is a bond there between mother and child unlike any other.
There is tension between Dr. and Mrs. Givings throughout the entire play because Mrs. Givings just wants her husband to touch her and love her, but as a doctor, he is too concerned with his work on his patients. From an external perspective, he is almost robotic and cold to his wife. She is mainly upset with Dr. Givings because he spends all this time bringing his patients to pleasure while she gets nothing. He insists that it is for scientific purposes and that it means absolutely nothing.
During the scenes of the treatments, the characters have a sheet over them as Dr. Givings or the nurse, Annie, brings them to cure through electric stimulation. Dr. Givings describes this treatment as using electric stimulation to let the excess fluid in the womb fall out, eventually curing the patients of their sickness and hysteria.
Dr. Givings is a very scientific man and he is also very blunt. He is hardly emotional and he wants his wife to be completely separate from his work in every sense of it. This becomes a problem when she goes into the next room and sees his machine. Dr. Givings is completely set on the fact that it is only for those that are sick and his wife is not sick, but she insists on using it and that she is sick. Because of this, she makes moves on Leo, a struggling artist, but her feelings are not reciprocated.
Eventually, we realize that she just wanted physical affection from her husband and that’s all anyone ever really wants from their lifelong partner.
Mr. and Mrs. Daldry
The second pairing we see in this play is Mr. and Mrs. Daldry. Mr. Daldry seeks out Dr. Givings because he wants his wife to be cured of her sickness and he wants her to have a life again.
The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Daldry is almost robotic. They are a historically accurate couple, in the sense of being very formal with one another at all times and they show very little of an emotional connection with each other. I believe this is part of the reason that Mrs. Daldry seeks the treatments from Dr. Givings, so she can feel some pleasure.
In a specific scene with Elizabeth, the Daldry’s maid, Mrs. Daldry, and Mrs. Givings, the latter of the two both agree that the sensations they receive from the machine “in the next room” is nothing like what that they have received from their husbands. This is in response to Elizabeth’s confession that she feels those sensations on occasion when she is with her husband, to which Mrs. Daldry admits that she lies very still and closes her eyes and she feels pain and only pain – nothing like what Elizabeth describes. This is one of the many heavily symbolic moments of the play. The audience is aware these women are talking about intimacy between them and their husbands, but the language being used makes you think about it. Nothing was ever specifically said, but you could infer that they meant certain things.
As the play develops, we also see Mr. Daldry growing especially fond of Mrs. Givings. This is troubling to Mrs. Givings because she has no feelings for him despite his advances upon her. There’s just a lot of love triangles in this play as the characters become intertwined with one another and it gets more tangled until right before the final scene when everyone is finally out of the Givings’ home.
Beyond the main four, there were three supporting characters that played equally important roles. These three have been mentioned, but their names are Annie, Elizabeth, and Leo.
Annie is the assistant of Dr. Givings who, on occasion, administers the treatment herself, especially if asked as with the case of Mrs. Daldry. The audience observes Annie doing her job as she and Mrs. Daldry spend more time together and become very close. When Mrs. Daldry goes in for one of her treatments, she asks for Annie to do it instead of the doctor, and when she comes to her completion, her and Annie almost kiss. As I said before, this play is surprisingly graphic, so all of this was acted out on stage in an absolutely phenomenal manner, albeit surprising. Annie is a character that the audience sees grow out of her shell in a way. She started off as sort of just a background character helping Dr. Givings, but as she grows closer to Mrs. Daldry, we realize that the character definitely has depth.
Elizabeth is the maid of the Daldrys’ and she is the one that becomes the “wet nurse” for Mrs. Givings since she is producing insufficient amounts of milk for her child. Elizabeth had recently had her newborn child die, and we learn that her son, Henry Douglas, was only sixteen weeks when he passed. This is the main reason she was hired by the Givings because she is producing breast milk for a late baby. Inevitably, she grows very fond of Mrs. Givings’ daughter, Lati, while she works for the Givings’ feeding their daughter. Her and Mrs. Givings have unintentional tension when it comes to feeding because Mrs. Givings is incredibly jealous of the fact that Elizabeth can feed her child, but Elizabeth is jealous of the fact that Mrs. Givings still has a child. It’s a very Catch-22 situation if you ask me.
Leo is the final character and he is Dr. Givings’ second and last patient. To the right is a picture of him on the table “in the next room,” pre-treatment. He had been a painter in Italy and had fallen in love with an Italian woman, but to his dislike, she left him before they were to get married. He then came back to the United States and sought out the doctor for a treatment to get him out of his “darkness” as he calls it. Before the treatment he was unable to paint anything, but afterwards, he was taken aback by all the wonderment the world had to offer him in terms of possible subjects. One of the problem points of the play is that he falls hopelessly in love with Elizabeth while he pursues a project to paint her feeding Lati, Mrs. Givings’ child.
As a whole, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, is a thoroughly entertaining and artistic play that is worth the viewing. It is uncomfortable and hard to watch at times and partly vulgar and not something that is suitable for the weak-minded. These characters are so tightly interwoven it is hard to describe what happened in this play without mentioning two or three of the other characters. It is a funny and dramatic play. There is a lot to take in and it is more likely one you will remember for a while if you sit and observe and take it in with a whole, unadulterated view.
It is thought-provoking and a completely new perspective. It is another one of those things that makes you think about what really is censored and what isn’t and what’s taboo versus what isn’t. As the play was happening, I felt confused and weirded out because I was just thinking, “now why would someone make a play about the history of the vibrator?” But now I see exactly why. Stepping back and really analyzing and taking it all in, it’s because there’s barely anything on the subject.
There was a post-show discussion with the professors of Gender and Women’s Studies, but I was unable to stay for it. I’m sure it went well but I hadn’t the time for it since I was unsure how long it would go.
Lydia Diamond did a fantastic job at directing In the Next Room or the vibrator play, and she is a phenomenal playwright, as she has had productions on Broadway in New York and Chicago. Additionally, she has written for an NBC show where she’s been able to fully showcase her talent for writing and directing.