Category: In the Next Room

Hovering at the Dawn of Electricity

Posted February 16, 2011 - 10:27am

Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play is, at its heart, about intimacy in an age of technological revolution, “a play hovering at the dawn of electricity,” as her introductory notes say. Its main male character, Dr. Givings, is very much a progressive Man of Science, interested in Everything New. And nothing is much newer, in the 1880s, than electricity.

Although humans have known about electricity in many of its natural forms for millennia (the word comes from the Greek word for amber; the Greeks’ first notice of static electricity was the sparks created by rubbing fur on amber), as Tom McNichol says in AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, before the nineteenth century, and especially before Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, “electricity remained branded in mystery, an eccentric, invisible force with powers that seemed to come from another world.”

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An Interview with Sarah Ruhl

Posted January 20, 2011 - 1:14pm

Dramaturg Walter Bilderback discusses In the Next Room, or the vibrator play with playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Walter Bilderback: The first time we spoke, when the Wilma produced The Clean House, you mentioned you were working on “a play about the history of the vibrator.” Here it is now: In the Next Room; or, The Vibrator Play. 

Let’s start with the obvious question: how did you decide to write a play about the history of the vibrator?

Sarah Ruhl: I was given a book by a friend called The Technology of Orgasm and was fascinated to learn that doctors used to treat hysterical women with vibrators, and before the invention, manually. I thought there might be a play in it.

WB: When did you decide to set the play in a single room? And why in “a prosperous spa town outside of New York City, perhaps Saratoga Springs”?

SR: I like to set myself formal challenges when I’m writing and wanted to write this particular one with the challenge of having simultaneous and continuous action in two rooms. Saratoga Springs—I learned that vibrators were part of the healing treatment there, particularly hydraulic vibrators—the salubrious effects of “the waters” sometimes meant vibrators. I also learned that it had a thriving African American community after the war. I was teaching for the SITI company up in Saratoga and loved the history of the place.

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