Release Tension with The Vibrator Play

Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Ortega
Photo Courtesy of Giovanni Ortega

by Delphine Burns

Editor-in-chief

Engulfed in papers, reading, and exams, the stress of midterms may leave students seeking relaxation and entertainment. During this time, students and professors alike face a lot of academic anxiety. To release this tension (no pun intended), faculty and students may wish to enjoy the comedic play In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play.  Director Giovanni Ortega wrote of the production,

           Imagine a time when light was still in its infancy and the fire within is not allowed to be lit. Electricity in the physical and emotional realm is an underlying theme of this play.

Welcome to the world of In the Next Room or The vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl where certain women in society were not allowed the joy of sensuality where they have to seek out machines to find and discover sensual pleasure for the first time. Set during the latter part of the 19th century when doctors used the vibrator as a clinical device to bring women to orgasm as treatment for “hysteria,” the play focuses on the Victorian ignorance of female sexual desire, motherhood, breastfeeding, and jealousy.

This play is an analytical view of how our hunger for knowledge can dissuade us from solutions that are right before our very eyes. Sarah Ruhl  has written a farcical piece of theater that will make you fall off the edge of your seats in laughter but still allow the audience to witness the dynamics of gender, sexuality, class and race during what seems to be a time that’s gone by….. or has it?

Ortega explained that there are many social justice elements present in the production.

“This play is number one about gender equality of males and females,” Ortega said. “What was it like not to have freedom to enjoy your sexuality as a woman? Sex for women used to be viewed as pragmatic and just about having a child. That’s the way it was viewed back then, and people are still dealing with this kind of stuff.”

To explore this element, the play centers on the doctor’s wife, Mrs. Givings, a woman seeking self-discovery. Pitzer senior Isabel Semler plays the role of Catherine Givings.

Semler describes her character as “a comical character but also complex.”

As her character struggles with self-exploration and identity issues, and engages in a variety of activities in attempt to discover herself.

“Throughout the whole play Catherine just wants to feel alive,” Semler said. “She will do anything from trying to learn how to play the piano, to wanting to be painted, to going on walks in the cold snow without any jacket on. She is constantly trying to meet people and feel alive and just feel something and she does, by the end. She takes control of her sexuality and pleasures herself, makes friends, and is able to finally feel something with her husband.”

Semler auditioned for this play because she “loves how sexually emancipating it is.”

She believes it covers topics that are still taboo today. “Female pleasure is not talked about as much and I think it’s really awesome that this is being performed on a college campus,” Semler said.

Photo Courtesy of Delphine Burns
Photo Courtesy of Delphine Burns

Although the play centers around the topic of sexual emancipation, a racial element is also present in the show.

            “The racial element is secondary, because the show is really about discovery of the vibrator,” Ortega said.

However, he believes this show addresses social issues such as race in a thought-provoking way, since the show is a comedy.

“What a great way to tackle these taboos,” Ortega said. “We don’t really talk about these things. When we do it’s in a very sociopolitical way, instead of comedy.”

Since the show does not have open dialogues regarding race or sexuality, as perhaps students normally would on campus, it uses the comedic characters as tools to provoke reflection on social issues.

CMC junior Jhanneu Roberts’ character, Elizabeth, and her interaction with Mrs. Givings make provocative statements about race.

“Elizabeth is not a main character but important character,” Roberts said. “She is teaching white women about their sexuality and their privilege. I’m the wise teacher who lets the character of Mrs. Givings know that she is privileged and needs to realize what she has.”

Finally there are elements of sexual orientation and class present in the play.

“There is an element of the class system,” Ortega said. “Annie, another character, is definitely in the working class. Elizabeth, the African American character, is also a working woman. This play also shows how race and class coincide. There is also a sexual orientation element. This play really touches on a wide variety of social issues without saying, ‘Hey this is a social issue.’”

Ortega believes that using comedy as a tool for social change is effective and powerful.

“This play will take the audience to a very good space of humor to have a sense of humor with things going on during that time period,” Ortega said. “It confronts political situations as comedy. You might not even notice the political aspects.”

 

 

 

 

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