The Ann Arbor Civic Theater will be performing “In the Next Room,” or “The Vibrator Play,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Sarah Ruhl.

Set in the 1880s, electricity has just reached the household and a doctor, Mr. Givings, uses it to treat women for hysteria with a vibrating device. One room over, his wife struggles to nurse her young baby and navigate her role as a wife and mother. When a wet nurse and several patients enter the household, each half of the couple begins to wonder what’s happening on the other side of the door.

Despite its scandalous title, the goal of the play is to get viewers to more deeply consider what’s non-scandalous.

In an interview with the Michigan Daily, Director Melissa Freilich said, “It’s a play about vibrators, but it’s not a play about sex. It’s a play about people trying to connect.”

The characters try to navigate complex social interactions, asking themselves what they truly want out of their relationships. The characters grapple with stereotypes of how the typical family unit should operate, like what it means to be a husband and what it means to be a wife.

The play also seeks to break down stigmas associated with sexuality, particularly with regards to female sexuality. Though people often giggle at the thought of vibrators, this play uses it not as a punchline to a joke, but to ask bigger questions. Once the vibrating device is introduced, the way the characters interact with it is the turning point to questioning their relationships.

Freilich said, “The thing that was important to me is that we watch the people having these vibrator treatments and that we don’t laugh at them, don’t see them as pornographic. Women get seen as sexual objects too much in our society, and I wanted to make sure that we were seeing people as human. I want people to think, wow, when have I felt something new, struggled with fear and tried to understand that?”

Though set in the Victorian era, it was written in 2009 and is a modern play at heart. By setting the play at the advent of electricity, the play also questions how the nature of human connection changes with technological development –– a question that many people find themselves asking today, in the age of the smartphone.

Above all, Freilich hopes that the play’s balance of comedy and poignant emotion can untangle complicated ideas of sex, love and their overlap.

“We have the idea that they’re separate, or that they must go hand-in-hand. By putting us a different era, it lets us laugh about those ideas we have and makes us question all the weird things we think.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *