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Open Fist presents Sarah Ruhl’s sparkling comedy about
female sexuality, ‘In the Next Room, or the vibrator play’
LOS ANGELES (REVISED March 4, 2022) — Open Fist Theatre Company returns to in-person performances with a funny, intriguing and highly entertaining comedy about sex, intimacy and equality. Lane Allison directs the provocatively titled In the Next Room, or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl for a March 18 opening at Atwater Village Theatre, where performances continue through April 23.
Set in the 1880s at the dawn of the age of electricity, and based on the little-known historical fact that doctors used vibrators to treat “hysterical” women (and some men), the play centers on a doctor and his wife and how this new therapy affects their household. Dr. Givings is obsessed with the marvels of technology and what they can do for his patients. His wife, Catherine, is only a bystander in her husband’s world, listening at the door from the next room as he treats his female patients. Dr. Givings is not sure exactly how the vibrator helps the women he treats — but they do keep coming back.
What, exactly, were doctors thinking, when they utilized vibrators in the name of medical treatment? And what did women think was happening to them when doctors treated their so-called “hysterical” symptoms with such a newfangled and highly personal machine?
“When I discovered how the vibrator was invented and used medically in the 19th century, I was astonished,” Ruhl said in an interview. “Treating women with a vibrator was not considered sexual because women weren’t supposed to experience sexual desire or pleasure. Doctors thought it was releasing fluid that had built up and was causing the womb to be flooded, giving the woman hysterical symptoms. Which in a way is quite accurate.”
“It’s very telling that, when inventors got to thinking about which items should be prioritized for an electric upgrade, the machines used to treat hysteria were in the top five, just behind the sewing machine, fan, kettle and toaster,” says Allison. “The buzz they created is still reverberating today — unintentionally sparking an indelible awareness of the varied and rich complexities of repression due to one’s gender, ethnicity, class, education and sexual identity, thus illuminating a path for change.”
In the Open Fist production, Spencer Cantrell and Dionna Veremis star as Dr. and Mrs. Givings, with Stephanie Crothers as the doctor’s anxious, depressed and “hysterical” patient Mrs. Daldry and Christopher Carver and Alexander Wells alternating in the role of Mr. Daldry. Monazia Smith portrays Elizabeth, the Givings’ wet nurse; Bryan Robert Bertone is the Bohemian painter Leo Irving; and Jennifer Zorbalas plays Annie, the Dr’s faithful assistant. Scenic design is by Jan Munroe, lighting design is by Sarah Schwartz, sound design is by Marc Antonio Pritchett, and costumes are designed by Mylette Nora. The propmasters are Bruce Dickinson and Ina Shumaker, and the production stage manager is Jennifer Palumbo.
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009 before opening on Broadway later that year. In its “Critic’s Pick” review, The New York Times called it an “inspired new comedy… illuminates with a light touch — a soft, flickering light rather than a moralizing glare — how much control men had over women’s lives, bodies and thoughts, even their most intimate sensations.”
Sarah Ruhl’s other plays include The Clean House (Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Pulitzer Prize Finalist); Passion Play, a cycle (Pen American award, Kennedy Center’s Fourth Freedom Forum Playwriting Award); Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Helen Hayes Award); Melancholy Play; Eurydice; Orlando, Demeter in the City (NAACP nomination), Late: a cowboy song, Three Sisters, Stage Kiss and Dear Elizabeth. She is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.
Open Fist Theatre Company is a collective, self-producing artistic enterprise with all facets of its operation run by its artist members. The company’s name combines the notion that an open spirit, embracing all people and all ideas, is essential, with the idea that determination, signified by a fist, is necessary if the theater is to remain a vital voice for social change and awareness.
Proof of vaccination will be required for admission, and masks must be worn throughout the performance. Open Fist Theatre Company ensures that theater ventilation systems are up to the recommended standard for COVID-19 protection. Patrons will be seated in a “checkerboard” pattern (alternating seats and rows).
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play runs March 18 through April 23, with performances taking place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. General admission is $25, with $15 tickets available to students, seniors and veterans with valid ID. Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. Parking is free is in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater. For reservations and information, call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.
Details for Calendar Listing
‘In the Next Room, or the vibrator play’
Open Fist Theatre Company presents In the Next Room, or the vibrator play, Sarah Ruhl’s effervescent comedy about sex, intimacy and equality set in the 1880s — when enthusiasm for the electric light bulb gave rise to a handy new instrument to treat female hysteria.
• Written by Sarah Ruhl
• Directed by Lane Allison
• Starring by Bryan Robert Bertone, Spencer Cantrell, Christopher Carver, Stephanie Crothers, Monazia Smith, Dionna Veremis, Alexander Wells and Jennifer Zorbalas
• Presented by Open Fist Theatre Company, Martha Demson, artistic director
March 18 – April 23:
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: March 18 (Opening Night), March 25, April 1, April 8, April 15, April 22
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9, April 16, April 23
• Sundays at 6 p.m.: March 20, March 27, April 3, April 10, April 17
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
• FREE parking in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater.
(323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org
• Join us on facebook: www.facebook.com/openfisttheatre/
• Follow us on twitter: @OpenFistTheatre
General Admission: $25
Students, Seniors, Veterans: $15
• Proof of vaccination required for admission.
• Masks must be worn throughout the performance.
• Open Fist Theatre Company ensures that theater ventilation systems are up to the
recommended standard for COVID-19 protection.
• Checkerboard seating (alternating seats and rows)