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Chapman University presents ‘In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play’ for online streaming

Chapman University presents a virtual rendition of "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play."
Chapman University is presenting a virtual rendition of “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” directed by Jocelyn A. Brown in late November.
(Courtesy of Kaz Fantone)

If you showed symptoms diagnosed as hysteria in the 19th century, a doctor might prescribe you the newest electrical device at the time — a vibrator.

This premise is at the center of playwright Sarah Ruhl’s comedy “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play,” along with themes of sexuality, intimacy and race. Young Dr. Givings offers his patients a vibrator to treat hysteria as his wife, Catherine — who listens to patient sessions at the door from the next room — takes second place to his experiments.

Ruhl began writing the play after reading the book “The Technology of Orgasm,” by scholar Rachel P. Maines, and was fascinated by the idea that privileged women in Victorian society could be so ignorant about their bodies.

As virtual shows have popped up in theater, dance, orchestras and art galleries, Chapman University’s theater and performing arts department is offering for the first time a live stream and recorded video of the play through Vimeo.

Artist Bret Price added the final piece to the Muckenthaler Cultural Center’s free sculpture garden last week. The pieces in the sculpture garden will be on view for about a year.

The play, originally planned as an in-person, staged performance to premiere in March, shut down rehearsals when the coronavirus pandemic hit. The online version is set to premiere on Nov. 20 and will be available to watch online from Nov. 21 to 29.

Jocelyn A. Brown, the director, said themes of loneliness and isolation in the play strike a resonating tone during a time of social distancing.

“The themes in the show are about these artificial boundaries, which are limiting human beings in this time period. They are constantly struggling to find intimacy,” Brown said. “Now that we are in this pandemic, we find so many of us struggling with being able to connect with friends, family and coworkers because we are stuck in these boundaries of Zoom boxes.”

The programming was part of Chapman’s plan to center on women and women’s issues to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which made voting a right regardless of gender.

Student actors received green screens and technology to record their roles in their individual homes in Southern California and across the country. Brown described the format as a new medium somewhere in between theater and film. The actors are in their individual boxes with superimposed moving backgrounds of three Victorian homes.

Brown, who is also a Chance Theater actor and director, said all theater is struggling right now, with some smaller Orange County theater venues shuttering including the Stages Theatre in Fullerton and the Attic Community Theater in Santa Ana.

“It’s been challenging, but the lovely thing is that we have figured out a way to help connect to audiences and deliver some form of live theater again,” Brown said.

If you watch

What: “In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play”
When: Live stream performance and Q&A on Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m.; on-demand video Nov. 21 to Nov. 29
Where: Virtual event via Vimeo
Cost: $10
Info: events.chapman.edu

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