Out and About Newspaper
Out and About Newspaper

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) comes to Nashville's Darkhorse Theatre

Promises to stimulate conversation

February 28, 2013 Linda Brewer   Comments

Imagine a woman who is feeling faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, or lack of, insomnia, fluid retention, irritability and loss of appetite. Now imagine that woman reaching out to a medical professional and having her symptoms diagnosed as hysteria often caused by sexual frustration or deprivation – and prescribed a vibrator for treatment. Or worse yet, having to undergo “pelvic massage”, the manual stimulation of the genitals, by the doctor, until she experiences “hysterical paroxysm” or what we call orgasm. Talk about hysterical.

This was actually common practice through the early 20th century. In fact, the electric vibrator made it to the home market – for private treatment – even before the electric vacuum cleaner. Now, turn this incredible historical (and pretty hysterical) fact into a play and you have the makings of an extremely funny production. And that's just what Actors Bridge Ensemble and Artists Cooperative Theatre (Act 1) have done. The Nashville premiere of “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl comes to the Darkhorse Theatre March 7 – 10. The play promises to be a quite stimulating experience.

Kara McLeland, who plays Sabrina Daldry, one of Dr. Giving's patients who receives the vibrator treatment for this dubious malady, spoke with Out & About Newspaper about the production and its contemporary relevance.

What made you audition for a part in In the Next Room?

A few semesters ago I was introduced to the concept of “hysteria” as a medical diagnosis during a course on Women in Music at MTSU. We discussed the nineteenth-century preoccupation with madness, and how an overwhelming majority of the heroines in nineteenth-century opera went mad and were consequently murdered/committed suicide on stage. The whole concept of “hysteria” was so outrageous and unbelievable to me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wrote essays about it, I wrote a song called “Hysteria” (which you’ll hopefully hear in a promo for the play), and I read a book called “The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction” by Rachel P. Maines. I had been wanting to get involved in a theatre production, and when I got the audition notice for “In the Next Room”, it was like universe was telling me something. Then I found out that Sarah Ruhl actually pulled a lot of her historical information for “In the Next Room” from Maines’s book. I knew I had to audition and somehow be involved. Ruhl brings such a human element to this absurd point in women’s history and medical science … in a weird way, I feel like being in this play has been my small contribution in vindicating those dead opera heroines, and all the Victorian women who were given a bogus medical diagnosis.

What does playing Sabrina Daldry mean to you in both your personal and career life? How are you similar to your character? How different?

I love Sabrina, and I think she is very relatable. What she truly wants is to be loved and appreciated by someone, and who doesn’t want that? The fact that she finds that connection with Annie, her nurse, is beautiful to me. Even though we never get to see this love fully develop — the fact that it is the 1880s complicates things — it goes to show that at a fundamental level, we all are looking for a human connection and to really be seen, regardless of gender or sexual orientation of our partner.
Sabrina is also a musician, and in the show she plays the piano during some of her most emotional moments. Having grown up loving and studying music, I totally relate to her connection to music as a means of self-expression.

This is my first performance with professional theatre companies (Actors Bridge and Act 1), so I’m thrilled have a role with such depth and opportunity. It means so much to me.

What's the hardest part of being in this production? The most fun? The most rewarding?

Sabrina experiences such a variety of emotions throughout the production—she feels sorrow, anger, joy, longing, and so much more. It’s been a challenge to make sure that each emotion is coming from an authentic place and that her emotional journey over the course of the play unfolds in an organic and genuine way. It’s funny, because I was most nervous to do the scenes where Sabrina has orgasms, and I thought it would be one of my bigger challenges … but the emotional stuff has been much more difficult! I think my friends and family are still a little nervous about watching those scenes, though! (laughs)

This cast and crew are phenomenal. Everyone is tremendously talented and is committed to making this show beautiful. It’s been a blast to work with them.

How do you think your character and the play itself speaks to our society, and particularly women of today, about how far we've come in our openness, acceptance and attitudes toward sex? And the attitudes of men towards our sexuality?

I think it can be easy to see a story set in the late 1800’s as ancient history, and to see the oppression that the female characters experience in it as absurdly archaic, but the messages of the play and the stories of these characters are absolutely relevant to us today. Expectations about how women should present their bodies are definitely still around today — we may not be wearing corsets anymore, but we have high-heels and plastic surgery and a variety of other ways to alter our bodies. In many ways our culture is still very uncomfortable with female sexuality. I can’t help but think of the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke debacle, for instance, and how a woman was slut-shamed for wanting reasonable access to contraceptives … and that’s just one example of the “war on women” that has been happening. I think we’ve made great strides since the 1880s, but there’s always more to work towards.

What do you hope the audience gets out of this production?

I hope the audience is willing to go with us on this emotional journey. This play is so many things—it’s heartbreaking and hilarious and sexy all at once. We’re also tackling a lot of important issues: gender, sexuality, race, technology. It has been a transformative experience for me and I hope the audience feels that, too. I can’t wait for everyone to see it!


“In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” plays March 7-10 and you can purchase tickets at  act1online.com.
 

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