Pouring Tea “In the Next Room”

In the Next Room cast

Left to right: Mrs. Givings (Jessica Filkill), Dr. Givings (Adam Joesten), and Elizabeth (Myka Lipscomb).

by Alison Block, English Department Ambassador

From October 21st through 25th, the Miami University Department of Theater presented In the Next Room (The Vibrator Play). The production focused on the first uses of the vibrator to relieve feminine hysteria to explore themes of feminism, female sexuality, and how technology has influenced our lives.

To help get the word out about the production, an event was held on Friday, October 16 in Miami’s historic Patterson Place. The play’s director, head and student dramaturgs, and actors were present to explain the content and context of the play and answer questions attendees had. Head dramaturg Dr. Katelyn Wood explained, "The purpose of this event is to begin to allow us to think about how history is performative and every performance is historical… how Victorian culture is imprinted on ourselves and our sexuality and technology."

In the Next Room

The play deals with themes of sexual and emotional frustration and disruption, emotional abuse, and the repression of women as a whole, and of their sexuality. To discuss those topics, attendees were split into four groups, moving around Patterson Place in order to engage directly with the actors and dramaturgs. The characters of Elizabeth (a wet nurse, played by Myka Lipscomb), Dr. Givings (the genius behind the vibrator-based therapy, played by Adam Joesten), and Mrs. Givings (Dr. Givings’ pent-up wife, played by Jessica Filkill) were all present, in their Victorian garb, to talk to us about their (fictitious and historical) lives. Dr. Givings (Adam Joesten) answers questions about electricity, his invention, and his patients.

Student dramaturgs Sloan Kyler, Meryl Juergens, and Logan Uhtenwoldt also gave historical context and talked about the research they did for the show.

Meryl Juergens, junior Creative Writing and Theater double major, worked as a dramaturg for the production. As a dramaturg, her job was find all information that would help prepare the actors (and the rest of the crew) for the job. One of her main responsibilities was to research women’s sexuality, hysteria, and the history of the vibrator during the Victorian era, when the play is set. Though the play concerns what is still today somewhat of a taboo subject, Juergens thinks it will be educational:

"The show plays in true fact, but stretches history and opens this subject up to see it from a feminist view so [the actors] can explain it in a way [the audience] can connect to," she said.

Being an English major also helped Juergens work with the play in a more dynamic way.

"It’s a piece of literature," Juergens said of her approach to understanding the work. "[It’s interesting] really seeing the author mixing surrealism in reality."

The play definitely pushes boundaries, but Juergens hopes that people kept an open mind and knew there are lessons to be learned within the play:

"I hope the audience comes away with new perspectives on how relationships work, and [can realize that] everyone is on a spectrum of sexuality and you can’t put anyone in a box.”

The play was written by Sarah Ruhl and premiered in December of 2009. It was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010, and has been adapted at various theater ensembles and colleges across the world. It was performed at Miami in the Gates-Abegglen Theater in the Center for Performing Arts (CPA).