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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Electric’ new play opens at Overture

Jessica Bess Lanius plays Mrs. Givings whose doctor husband is known for curing female ‘hysteria’ with the use of a vibrator.[/media-credit]

Upon first glance, it’s nothing more than a box.

Sitting on a pedestal, the device is roughly a foot wide and a foot deep.

Extending from the front is a long, thick cord with a round attachment at the end. With the flick of a switch, it emits a soft buzzing sound.


This is not what you’d think a vibrator looks like. But it is this device, set in the Victorian era, that is the subject of a play titled, “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play).” It will be onstage at the Overture Center for the Arts today through Nov. 21.

The play tells the story of a woman, Catherine Givings, who is married to a doctor with an interest in the latest medical technology. In particular, Dr. Givings is known for treating “hysteria,” which requires a particular device that, when applied to just the right spot on a woman’s body, would restore her “balance.”

Needless to say, this would be a popular treatment.

As Mrs. Givings hears some strange sounds coming from her husband’s office, she seeks to learn more about the treatment – and maybe give it a try herself.

“It was one of the most striking plays that I’ve personally read in a couple of years,” said director Jennifer Gray. “…It was funny, it had something to say, it was moving; those are all qualities you can find individually, but rarely find all together.”

According to Jessica Lanius, who plays Mrs. Givings, the play is fundamentally about figuring out the complexities of life and the relationships that come with it.

“There’s a little bit of wanting to connect, wanting to find out what is love, and what is marriage and what is it supposed to be like,” Lanius said.

The play, written by Sarah Ruhl, was nominated for a Pulitzer prize and three Tony awards. For Gray and everyone else at Forward Theater Company, the chance to perform “In the Next Room” is both an exciting opportunity and a milestone for the young company. After just one season, Forward landed “In the Next Room” for Madison – making it the first city in the Midwest to premiere the play.

“People are going to look at Forward Theater and go, ‘Look how far you came in one year. You’re doing a period piece that looks this good in your second season?'” said Richard Ganoung, who plays Mr. Daldry, the husband of one of Dr. Givings’ patients in the show. He also serves on Forward’s advisory company of artists who help select the shows for each season. “Most companies would build up to a show like this.”

And when audiences do go see the show, they are sure to be wowed by the visuals alone. The set features period-appropriate furniture and decorations, and the cast dons stunning costumes by Scott R?tt, who also serves as a costume designer for American Players Theatre. Yet even the smallest details were given special attention, such as the brief piano melody composed by Joe Cerqua just for the performance.

“I think they’re going to be bowled over by the beauty of it,” Ganoung said.

Ganoung and the other cast members also said audiences will be taken by the complexity of the play, which tackles sex, the expectations of motherhood and jealousy, among other things.

“I remember the first time I read the play, I’m a softie, I cry at Charmin commercials, but I remember I read the play – I was weeping at the end because it’s so lovely,” Ganoung said. “It goes in a direction you don’t anticipate.”

For Lanius in particular, the part is a sentimental role. As a Wisconsin native, she spent the past 12 years as an actress in New York. After having a child of her own, she is now back in Wisconsin, and her role as Mrs. Givings marks her big return. And a return it is – she considers her role a “role of a lifetime.”

“There are only so many great female parts, and I feel like this is a really great part to explore,” she said.

Between the comedic scenes of sexual tension and awkwardness along with the more emotional scenes, Gray says one thing is certain about those who attend “In the Next Room.”

“They will be wildly entertained, and they will go home with something to think about.”

“In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 21. For tonight’s preview performance, student tickets are $10. Tickets for the rest of the performances will be $35 or $25 for students.

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