In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)

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In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Written by Sarah Ruhl
Date premiered February 5, 2009 (2009-02-05)
Place premiered Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Berkeley, California
Original language English
Genre Comedy
Setting A prosperous spa town outside of New York City. The dawn of the age of electricity, and after the Civil War.

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) is a play by Sarah Ruhl. It concerns the early history of the vibrator, when doctors used it as a clinical device to bring women to orgasm as treatment for "hysteria." Other themes include Victorian ignorance of female sexual desire, motherhood, breastfeeding, and jealousy.[1] The play was nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards.

Plot summary[edit]

In late 19th-century America, Sabrina Daldry and Catherine Givings are sexually frustrated with their husbands, who creep quietly into their beds at night and only use the missionary position, which they endure but do not enjoy. Both are excited to have their first orgasms with the machine. Mrs. Daldry is content to continue having clinical treatments with the machine and suffer lifeless, boring sex with her own husband. "I am afraid there is very little sympathy between us."[2] Catherine Givings wants more. First Mrs. Givings learns from a visiting artist that orgasms detached from love ultimately are unfulfilling and empty, simply surface, without soul, and similar to sex with prostitutes. Then a lower-class wet nurse, Elizabeth, reveals to Catherine that she may be able to enjoy the same sensations from the machine with her husband, with whom she is frustrated because of his clinical detachment, but still ultimately loves. Catherine first inspires jealousy and passion in her husband, then convinces Dr. Givings - who had earlier observed that "what men do not perceive because their intellect prevents them from seeing would fill a book"[1] - to make naked snow angels with her and discovers the woman on top sex position, allowing her at last sexual satisfaction while the curtain lowers.


The set is divided between two rooms, a parlor and a doctor's office. At the play's climax, the actors step through the imaginary wall dividing the rooms to create the third and final scene, outdoors in the falling snow.


In the Director Presentation Les Waters states the play was inspired by The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel P. Maines.[3] Ruhl cites Maines's book, AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War (Tom McNichol) and A Social History of Wet Nursing in America (Janet Golden) as books she was reading or which influenced her when she wrote the play.[4]

The play was commissioned by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which received an Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award towards the production of the play. Les Waters, associate artistic director said, in part: "This award provides us with the rare luxury of an extended rehearsal period for a new play. Sarah has become one of the country's most important writers, and I'm honored that Berkeley Rep has played a vital role in her career."[5]


The play premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on February 5, 2009, running to March 15, 2009, under the direction of Les Waters.[6] The Broadway production, presented by the Lincoln Center Theater, began previews at the Lyceum Theatre on October 22, 2009,[7] officially opened on November 19 and closed on January 10, 2010 after 60 total performances.[8] The cast included Laura Benanti, Michael Cerveris, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maria Dizzia, Thomas Jay Ryan, Wendy Rich Stetson, and Chandler Williams.[9] This production was nominated for three Tony Awards.

Professional productions[edit]

Subsequent professional productions include:

  • In September–October 2011, the play was produced by the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket (TWN), directed by Anne Breeding, and by the Playmaker's Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,[14] directed by Vivienne Benesch.
  • In late 2011, the play was produced by Plan 9 in Larco Theatre in Lima, Peru, directed by David Carrillo.
  • In March–April 2012, the play was produced by Auckland Theatre Company[15] Auckland, New Zealand, directed by Colin McColl.
  • In June–July 2012, the play was produced by Fortune Theatre,[16] Dunedin, New Zealand, directed by Lara Macgregor.
  • In April–May 2013, the play was produced by the Santa Paula Theater Center, directed by James Castle Stevens.[17]
  • In May 2013, the play was produced by the Colonial Players of Annapolis, Maryland, directed by Carol Youmans
  • From November 2013 to January 2014, a production directed by Laurence Boswell ran in the St. James Theatre, London.[18]
  • In October 2014, the play was produced by the Hobart Repertory Theatre Society, directed by Steven Jones, in Tasmania, Australia.[19]

Amateur productions[edit]

The play has been produced by many university and college theatre departments, including:

  • In December 2011, the play was produced by the Pasadena City College Theater Department in Pasadena, California.
  • In February 2012, the play was produced by the University of Iowa Theater Department in Iowa City, Iowa.
  • In December 2012, the play was produced by the Fullerton College Theater Arts Department in Fullerton, California, directed by Chuck Ketter.[20]
  • In February 2013, the play was produced at The Festival Playhouse by the Kalamazoo College Theater Department, directed by Karen Berthel.[21]
  • In March 2013, the play was produced by the Princeton University Theatre Department, directed by Sarah Hedgecock.[22]
  • In April 2013, the play was produced by the University of South Florida Theatre Department, directed by Fanni Green.[23]
  • In October 2013, the play was produced by the University of the Ozarks Theatre in Clarksville, Arkansas, directed by Bruce Brown.[24] The play was later selected to perform at the Region VI Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival held at the Strand Theatre (Shreveport, Louisiana) on February 27, 2014.
  • In October–November 2013, the play was produced by the Bates College Theatre Department in Lewiston, Maine, directed by Kati Vecsey.[25]
  • In November 2013, the play was produced by University of Southern Indiana Theatre in Evansville, Indiana, directed by Elliot Wasserman.[26]
  • In December 2015, the play was produced by the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire theatre department, directed by Dr. Jennifer Chapman, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.[27]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The play garnered three 2010 Tony Award nominations:[28][29][30]

The play was nominated for the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design.[29]


  1. ^ a b Hurwitt, Robert (6 February 2009). "Theater review: 'In the Next Room'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  2. ^ Isherwood, Charles (18 February 2009). "A Quaint Treatment for Women Wronged". New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2009. 
  3. ^ Waters, Les. "Highlights from Les Waters Director Presentation for In the Next Room (January 2009)". Berkeley Rep. Retrieved 16 February 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Sarah Ruhl: 'A Note from Sarah Ruhl', In The Next Room The Berkeley Rep Magazine , 2008-09, Number 4, p. 23
  5. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Berkeley Rep's Premiere of Ruhl's' In the Next Room' Wins Edgerton Award" Playbill, July 28, 2008
  6. ^ Gold Star: "In the Next Room: World Premiere of Victorian-Era Sex Comedy"
  7. ^ "Lincoln Center Theatre". Lincoln Center Theatre. 2008. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Ruhl's In the Next Room Will Play Broadway's Lyceum Theatre,", July 9, 2009
  9. ^ Hetrick, Adam. "Benanti and Cerveris to Star in Broadway's In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)" Playbill, July 21, 2009
  10. ^ "Actors Theatre Opens Season With In the Next Room (Or The Vibrator Play) 10/29-11/4". BroadwayWorld, October 29, 2010
  11. ^ Lengel, Kerry. "10/29-11/14: In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)". The Arizona Republic, October 24, 2010
  12. ^ Recipients of the 2011 Awards, Green Room Awards
  13. ^ "In the Next Room, or the vibrator play". A Contemporary Theater. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  14. ^ Jeffrey Rossman. "In the Next Room - Hysterical "Hysteria" at PlayMakers' 2011-12 Opener". CNVC Online Arts Journal. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  15. ^ Auckland Theatre Company
  16. ^ Fortune Theatre
  17. ^ "In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)". Santa Paula Theater Center. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Mountford, Fiona (22 November 2013). "In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play, St James Theatre - theatre review". The Evening Standard. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Jack White. "Hobart Rep presents Tony Award-winning comedy "In the Next Room"". Hobart Repertory Theatre Society. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
  20. ^ "Events Calendar". Fullerton College. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  21. ^ "In the Next Room, or the vibrator play". Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  22. ^ "In the Next Room, or the vibrator play". Lewis centre, Princeton Theatre. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  23. ^ "Senior thesis project to present 'In the Next Room, or the vibrator play'". Princeton University. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  24. ^ "University Theatre shines at state festival". University of the Ozarks. 29 October 2013. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  25. ^ Vanderburgh, Barbara (16 October 2013). "Love's true meaning is subject of 'In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)'". Bates College. Retrieved 8 December 2013. 
  26. ^ Angela Torres. "USI Theatre presents Tony Award-winning comedy "In the Next Room"". University of Southern Indiana. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  27. ^ "UWEC Theatre brochure" (PDF). University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  28. ^ "Who's Nominated?". Tony Awards. IBM Corp. Retrieved 13 June 2010. 
  29. ^ a b " In the Next Room Overview and Awards" Playbill (vault), accessed September 28, 2016
  30. ^ Gans, Andrew. "64th Annual Tony Awards to Be Presented June 13 at Radio City" Playbill, June 13, 2010

External links[edit]