In The Next Room

About the Play

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play is set in a prosperous spa town outside of New York City in the 1880s.  It is the dawn of the age of electricity contrasted against a society of strict social and moral standards.  At the center of this world is a newly married couple, Catherine and Dr. Givings.  The good doctor, son of a famous abolitionist and a leader in both the medical and social community, opens a new home office where he treats the condition of women’s hysteria with a newly invented medical device, the vibrator.  Dr. Givings, capable of healing the physical and emotional needs of his patients, remains emotionally distant and impassive to the very same needs of his spouse.  For a wife who has only been educated by a society that constrains women emotionally, intellectually and sexually, Catherine Givings is a woman ahead of her time.  In this newly enlightened age of science and philosophy – Catherine is an explorer who knows no direction but forward.  What the world and her husband refuse to tell her, to show her, to allow her to experience she can and will discover on her own.  Catherine embraces the world innocently, with little bias or any preconceived notion of the restrictive morality placed upon her by a husband who hesitates in the expression of intimacy.   It is left to Catherine to heal her doctor, to awaken him to the intimacy shared between two people without shame but with the full expression of love – the sharing of two souls as one.  Playwright Sarah Ruhl puts it this way:

“The play is not a sex farce about vibrators.  It’s about wet nurses; it’s about the body . . . In terms of sexuality, I was aiming less for self-consciousness than for a kind of innocence.  In some ways people then were innocent of sexuality compared to the biological knowledge we’ve acquired about the subject since.  I didn’t want the play to be too knowing.  Ultimately the play is about intimacy. “

Why the warning of adult situations, sexual content, and partial nudity in In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play?

There actually is no nudity in this production of In the Next Room.  Characters (and actors) are always presented in their underwear even when it may be perceived that they are exposing themselves to another character or the audience.

The medical procedures presented in the play, the treating of hysteria with a vibrator to produce a paroxysm in a patient, were actually administered while a patient was still wearing their underwear.  Underwear of this time was constructed with discreet openings that did not require complete removal for actions such as using the bathroom, similar to the openings on modern men’s underwear.  Doctors often would never look at a patient while they were in their underwear as a sign of professional ethics.

Dr. Givings employs a wet nurse for his wife, Catherine, who is unable to adequately nurse their new born child.  Elizabeth, the wet nurse, nurses the baby several times during the play.

The final scene of the play reveals Catherine undressed to her undergarments and her husband in the act of fully undressing.  While it is not necessary for the audience to see Dr. Givings without underwear, it is important for the audience to see Catherine experiencing her husband fully naked for the first time, vulnerable and without shame.  In that moment, the two discover the shared intimacy between husband and wife, without repression, reluctance or questions – a sharing of two souls.

Because of the nature of live theatre and the individual perceptions of audience members this production comes with the following content warning: This play contains adult situations, sexual content, and partial nudity.