Sex, gender roles take center stage in victorian comedy

The first main-stage play of the semester took place Thursday evening at Little Theatre. Theatre students delivered orgasmic emotions of empathy and laughter in “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” a Victorian parlor comedy about the early history of the vibrator.

Directed by theatre professor Bill Peters and based on the play written by famous playwright Sarah Ruhl, “In the Next Room” takes place at the dawn of the age of electricity, depicting the early use of the vibrator as a treatment of the male-described symptom of hysteria in women and men.

Set in a well-to-do Victorian home, in the late 1800s, Dr. Givings has invented an extraordinary device to treat “hysteric” patients. Adjacent to his in-home doctor’s laboratory is his young and energetic wife, Mrs. Givings, tending to their newborn daughter — curious about what is going on in the next room.

When Sabrina Daldry, a new “hysterical” patient, brings her own complicated marriage and issues to the Givings’ home, Dr. and Mrs. Givings must confront the nature of their own fragile marriage.

“She is a woman ahead of her time (but) born in a period where women were expected to be quiet and prim and proper,” said Elyssa Mersdorf, who played the role of Sabrina “She has been conditioned by her society to feel ‘less than,’ and like she failed because she is not a mother.”

“It’s a comedy of manners. Traditionally what that means is that we are watching a play about the ways in which a society’s manners, way of dealing with each other, can actually be a limitation on them,” Peters said.

Assistant director and SF State alumni, Bella Gadsby, describes the play as humorous, bright and witty while having extraordinary depth and insight.

“I think this play is exciting—pun completely intended—and incredibly stimulating,” Gadsby said. “The vibrator is a central character, which isn’t to say this play works only on the cheap laugh of using a sex toy onstage. The playwright uses the prop in such a way that it’s meaning and purpose goes beyond a simple laugh.”

Theatre performance major Nate Budroe plays the male lead role of Dr. Givings and describes his character as a gentle man.

“(Dr. Givings) is a sweetheart. The only bad things he does in the play are because of society as a whole,” Budroe said.

Marietou Biaye, another theatre performance major, played Elizabeth, whose character represents the lower Victorian class as a wet nurse for the Givings. She discussed the issue of gender inequality in the play..

“In the Victorian era, gender inequality was more (apparent) because women had all these restrictions,” Biaye said. “I think it’s important for people to see this play for that reason, to see how far we have come and all the work we still need to do.”

Although this play is set in the late 19th Century, according to Peters and Gadsby, it still approaches relatable issues such as marriage, classicism and gender today.

“I think that the interesting part of this play is that although it is set in the late 1800s, it is written by a modern, feminist, female playwright,” Gadsby said “So not only does this play carry the constraints of society in the 1800s it also comments on the societal pressures that carry through to the modern woman.”

“In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” will be performed again from Oct. 20 through Oct. 23 in SF State’s Little Theatre.

 

Latest comments
  • I’ve heard great things about this piece and can’t wait to see it Thursday evening!

  • Thank you for the wonderful article!!

  • Seen it last week!
    I totally recommend seeing this play.