IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY
Pulitzer Prize Finalist, 2010; Tony Award Nominee for Best Play, 2010
Set in the 1880s at the dawn of the age of electricity in a seemingly perfect, well-to-do Victorian home, proper gentleman and scientist Dr. Givings has innocently invented an extraordinary new device for treating "hysteria" in women (and occasionally men): the vibrator. Adjacent to the doctor's laboratory, his young and energetic wife Catherine tries to tend to their newborn daughter-and wonders exactly what is going on in the next room. When a new "hysterical" patient, Sabrina, and her husband bring a wet nurse and their own complicated relationship into the doctor's home, Dr. and Mrs. Givings must examine the nature of their own marriage, and what it truly means to love someone.
In the Next Room: or the vibrator play, premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in February 2009, directed by Les Waters. It premiered on Broadway at Lincoln Center Theater in October 2009, starring Laura Benanti, Michael Cerveris, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maria Dizzia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Wendy Rich Stetson, and Chandler Williams. The production was nominated for three Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Featured Actress in a Play (Maria Dizzia), and Best Costume Design of a Play (David Zinn).
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A rocking chair.
Sumptuous rugs, sumptuous wallpaper.
Many electrical lamps, and one particularly beautiful one, with green glass.
Next to the living room, a private doctor’s room, otherwise known as an operating theater.
The relationship between the living room and the operating theater is all important in the design, as things happen simultaneously in the living room and operating theater.
In the operating theater, a medical table covered with a sheet.
A basin for washing hands, just barely out of sight from the medical table.
And an outlet, to plug in electrical apparatus.
One exit, in the operating room, to an unseen room (the doctor’s private study) and one exit to the living room, which has an exit to an unseen nursery and to the outdoors.
One might consider, rather than recorded sound, using only the live piano if one of the actors is good at playing piano.
One might consider, rather than the usual lighting instruments, something ancient.
That is to say—in a play hovering at the dawn of electricity—how should the theater itself feel? Terribly technological or terribly primitive or neither—At any rate, let the use of technology feel like a choice.
Dr. Givings, a man in his forties, a specialist in gynecological and hysterical disorders.
Catherine Givings, his wife, a woman in her late twenties.
Sabrina Daldry, his patient, a woman in her early thirties.
Annie, a woman in her late thirties, Dr. Giving’s midwife assitant.
Leo Irving, Dr. Giving’s other patient, a Englishman in his twenties or thirties.
Elizabeth, an African-American woman in her early thirties. A wet-nurse by default.
Mr. Daldry, Sabrina Daldry’s husband, a man in his forties or fifties.
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A prosperous spa town outside of New York City, perhaps Saratoga Springs
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The dawn of the age of electricity; and after the Civil War; circa 1880s
I am indebted to the book The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines for inspiration. Big thanks to Luke Walden for putting me on to it. Another debt is due to AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, by Tom McHichol, for thoughts on electricity. Thanks to my husband for finding it for me. A final debt is due to A Social History of Wet Nursing. Astericks indicate quotations from primary historical sources. Things that seem impossibly strange in the play are all true—such as the Chattanooga Vibrator—and the vagaries of wet-nursing. Things that seem commonplace are all my own invention.