Renegade Theater Company’s Northland-premiere production of Sarah Ruhl’s Tony nominated play, IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY opens on Thursday, June 13th at 8pm. And it features a blueberry pancake singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Just checking to see if you were still reading. True, there’s no pancake, blueberry or otherwise. But, we’re really glad to see you were able to read further than the word “Vibrator.” Cause here’s the thing: Renegade has a reputation for tackling shows with tough subject matter, nudity and buckets of blood. But this sweet, romantic, funny and moving comedy about love and marriage has the potential to be our most controversial show yet, all because of that one word in the title.
In fact, a local television station refused to cover the show because of it. That’s a first for us. And a little odd, considering we’ve done shows where people smoke crack, have underage sex, and blow each other’s brains out and nobody has ever batted an eye. So why the fear of the “V” word? Here’s what Sarah Ruhl has to say about it (from an interview with Time Out):
“I feel like sexuality’s been flipped: In the past, they compartmentalized and were so repressed, but today pornography has taken over the language of our sex lives and made it so public that it actually splits our bodies off from our emotions. We have no privacy. Selling jeans is pornography, Sarah Palin’s pornography, everything’s pornographic, so what does that do to our intimate private lives?”
That’s a good question, and maybe that’s why people’s brains may shut down after seeing the title or hearing the play’s about the very true and very real medical practice of doctor’s using vibrators to stimulate women to orgasm in an effort to cure their hysteria. Because they assume it’s going to be infantile and overtly sexual. A blatant attempt to get people to spend money on a play by the enticement of sex. Because they are used to that tactic by now and have come to expect it. And isn’t that a new and very modern form of sexual compartmentalization and repression?
Don’t look at us. We don’t know. We were actually asking.
Here’s what we do know. This play is the furthest thing from exploitative or infantile. There’s a lot more going on here than some mild paroxysms (Look it up. Or read below. Or see the play. You pick!). Saying this play is only about vibrators is like saying Jurassic Park is only about a fat guy who got lost in his jeep.
So, if it’s not about vibrators, what IS it about, then? Well, it’s about love. And intimacy. And electricity.
It’s also about the relationships between men and women in 19th century. How little men cared for a woman’s happiness or pleasure. How much power and control men had over women’s minds, emotions and bodies. And how many of these issues still have relevance today. But Sarah Ruhl does it all with the light touch and deft comic hand that has earned her a MacArthur “Genius” grant and made her a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
And, woven through all these rich, funny and moving themes is a bit of real, true history. Here’s what the show’s director, the fabulous Anika Thompson (director of past Renegade productions like “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” and “Bug”) has to say about it:
“One of the most interesting things about In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play is that it dramatizes a little known part of medical history; where your health care provider stimulating you to orgasm (or paroxysms as they are referred to in the play) was considered a clinical treatment. Any number of maladies, if labeled a symptom of hysteria, warranted this treatment. And this wasn’t just a pocket in a time of quack science, but originated as far back as the Greeks and the idea of the “wandering womb.” Which, apparently, could cause everything from being too outspoken, independent, or sexually free to disorders like depression, post partum or otherwise, and true mental illness. Added to all of that, is the humorous bit of trivia that the vibrator was not invented for sexual pleasure or specifically for women, but rather was created by physicians who found the task of manual stimulation too difficult to learn, too unpredictable in how long it might take to achieve, and too tiring for their poor wrist/hands if they treated too many women in a day! Leaving it to Midwives to do often resulted in less pay, so amazingly enough, an instrument was invented that could replicate “the manual treatment” and the vibrator was born!”
On Thursday, June 13th, our production opens. We hope to see you there. Unless you’re a snickering high school freshman who just wants to giggle every time somebody says “vibrator.” You can stay home. Or come to the 10:30 Improv show. We’ll be more than happy to oblige then!