In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) tells the story of two sexually unfulfilled women who, frustrated by their husbands and suffering from a popular new medical condition, decide to take their pleasure into their own hands.
“There was this crazy bout, at the end of the 19th century, of hysteria,” says director Amy DeFelice. “And suddenly a lot of doctors, about 75 percent of their practice started to be treating hysteria. … The treatment for female hysteria needed to be vaginal massage, essentially.”
While researching the historical context of the play, which is set in 1880s New York, DeFelice explored vintage magazine ads and learned that the vibrator was developed by exhausted doctors.
“The doctors were totally bored by doing it,” DeFelice says. “They said: ‘It takes way too long. It takes like an hour unless you know what you’re doing.'”
Eventually they came up with a more efficient method of treatment—a tool which a lady could use like any other household appliance.
“That was exactly how the advertisements were, like labour-saving devices,” she says. “And I love the fact that it turned out the vibrator was the fifth household appliance to be electrified. Because it was that popular.”
In the Next Room toys with issues of intimacy, shame and female body autonomy in a 19th-century context, but its messages still resonate today. Although it unfolds as a farcical romp—where timing is everything and clothes keep coming off—the play engages with the social taboo around sexuality, which has become a popular topic this theatre season.
“One thing that I find very interesting about this play is how much some of the other plays that I’ve seen at the Chinook Festival were talking about some of the same issues,” DeFelice says. “I went to see Confessions of a Sex Worker, and I saw some of the same issues that our play was trying to talk about, about intimacy … I had to go see The Yellow Wallpaper [also at the Chinook], because it’s writing about a lot of the same issues.”
Until Sat, Feb 27 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Saturday matinees)
Directed by Amy DeFelice
Backstage Theatre, $21.75 – $27