Review: ‘In The Next Room’ Shook Me to My Core

Catherine Givings, played by Columbus senior Orion Hower, eavesdrops on a conversation between her husband Dr. Givings, played by Ortonville sophomore Seph Cartier and Mr. Daldry, played by Dallas sophomore Alexander Christian. Hower’s senior theater capstone, “In The Next Room,” also known as “The Vibrator Play,” follows the treatment of patients with hysteria as well as the misunderstandings of sexuality (Photo courtesy of the Albion College Theatre Department).

Walking into the Black Box Theatre on the opening night of “In The Next Room,” I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the play was going to be about the invention of the vibrator and how it was used as a way to treat female hysteria, but I was nonetheless very concerned when I saw the various content warnings displayed on the program I received.

Though the program warned me of various things such as “references to infant death” and “implicit and explicit racism, sexism, classism,” I found myself laughing my worries away throughout the performance, along with the rest of the audience.

While the play navigated some difficult topics, both for the 1800s and the present, the characters were able to crack a few one-liners that filled the theatre with laughter. Between these one-liners and the occasional comical misinterpretations of relationships, there were very few tense moments throughout “In The Next Room.”

Packing A Punch

In the second half of the performance, Dallas sophomore Alaceia Simmons delivered a powerful and heartfelt monologue as her character, Elizabeth, left the audience speechless. For me, I could really feel the emotions Elizabeth was trying to talk through. The cracks in her voice made it feel so real – I couldn’t help but feel bad for her as she took care of another’s child while having just lost her own.

“It talks about her devotion and how religion impacted her experience and how the loss of her son is so deep towards her,” Simmons said. “I can physically feel it, and people can physically see it. It’s just hard because I’m trying not to choke up the whole time and each time, even during practice, I would feel that emotion.”

Elizabeth had many emotional scenes that had the audience reeling, but we also saw emotional highs and lows from Mrs. Daldry, played by Marquette junior Kat Voogd. Many of these moments revolved around her relationship with Annie, played by Syracuse, N.Y. first-year Jane Raven.

With her first major part at Albion College, Raven had to convey so much tension while sharing scenes with Mrs. Daldry, especially when things go awry after they kiss. Raven allows the audience to see every single emotion that Annie is feeling in that moment, and her performance left me stunned. While never having been in that situation, she was able to convey exactly what Annie was going through.

“The relationship between Annie and Mrs. Daldry was so beautiful,” Raven said. “Annie is 33, unmarried, that’s what she says. I think she knows that she likes women, I think she knows that she’s gay.”

Raven’s character is one of few where you can’t always tell what they are thinking, which is why some of the events that transpire between Annie and Mrs. Daldry in the second act pack such a punch for the audience.

Speaking of packing a punch, “In The Next Room” only has one action that can be considered violent. This comes when Mrs. Givings lands a hand on the side of Mr. Daldry when he tries to kiss her, mistaking her emotions for interest. Props to Mrs. Givings, as this is one of the few scenes in the entire play where she seems to have autonomy of herself. Still, unfortunate for Mr. Daldry.

“It was a lot of choreography being done,” Dallas sophomore Alexander Christian said. “One of the things that really helped, believe it or not, was the acting notes that (the director) would give me as well. Like ‘oh, he’s real confident about it, he’s not necessarily timid. He’s not expecting to get slapped, he’s expecting to kiss Mrs. Givings, because he is that guy,’” Christian said.

Speaking of “that guy,” a proper review of this play can’t be done without mentioning the one to treat the “hysteria” that led to the invention of the vibrator: Dr. Givings, played by Ortonville sophomore Seph Cartier.

Cartier said they put a lot of research into the historical context of the play as well as their character.

“A lot of looking into the invention of the vibrator which is still seen by some people as a myth,” Cartier said, adding that people would say “‘it wasn’t used to treat women’s hysteria,’ but it was.”

Patients and Treatments

As the main focus when it comes to “treatments,” the audience sees Mrs. Daldry at her sickest points and her healthiest.

“I had to really lock in and I had to understand that this is the lowest point of Mrs. Daldry’s life,” Voogd said. “This is her rock bottom.”

As Voogd said, Mrs. Daldry is at her lowest point at the beginning of the play, to the point that the lights hurt her eyes and she lets Mr. Daldry do all of the talking. Yet, by the time we get through intermission and into the second act, Mrs. Daldry has completely taken a turn, and when she walks on stage, you take notice.

These emotional changes weren’t the only alterations Voogd went through on stage, however. Voogt performed several on-stage costume changes as well.

“So many snaps. So many buttons. When we were practicing, there was one in the second act that we only had 30 seconds, or a few lines, to pull off,” Voogd said.

Catherine Givings, played by Hower, takes a hat pin from Mrs. Daldry, played by Marquette junior Kat Voogd. This is one of the many elaborate costumes that Mrs. Daldry wore during the play (Photo courtesy of the Albion College Theatre Department).

Besides quick costume changes, the cast had other difficulties to contend with. For Marysville first-year Brady Zalac, one of the toughest challenges was the accent for their character, Leo Irving.

“Leo is very British. I have a hard time with diction, and I have braces, so it makes speaking, especially in an accent, harder,” Zalac said.

Another challenge Zalac said they faced was the “goodbye scene, because at that point Leo ceases to be all too extravagant and takes a more serious tone,” Zalac said. “Which is very weird because for the rest of the play he’s just this silly little guy.”

Leo was a silly little guy.

While Zalac talks about the struggles they faced playing Leo, watching the character navigate the male side of treatments had me and every other audience member cackling with laughter. Leo truly was an extravagant character and artist in the play.

Director’s Notes and Senior Capstone

As I looked at the Director’s notes provided in the program, a part stuck out to me, noting that women are so frequently overlooked in regard to themselves.

“Even in the 21st century, ignorance about women’s bodies persists, and we inhabit a culture that is more comfortable with images of violence than with depictions of female pleasure,” VanArsdalen said in the Director’s notes. “Far too often, the burden is still on women to be advocates for their own health and defenders of their own desire.”

That holds true for many of the female characters in the show, especially Catherine Givings, played by Columbus senior Orion Hower, who argues with her husband about what she wants and how she is feeling.

“I have a few moments where I have some time to think and get into her head. Get into that feeling of not being good enough, of not being lovable, of being all alone,” Hower said. “Everybody has gone and left her behind, even her baby and her husband she feels don’t love her, and those are the two people who are supposed to love you no matter what.”

There are added stakes in this performance for Hower, as it is their senior capstone project.

“Big love to Meghan VanArsdalen, I’m so grateful I got to work with her on this project. She’s such a wonderful director, such a blessing. Big love to my whole department for the fact that I’m here doing my senior capstone project and they’ve been supporting me the whole way,” Hower said.

The Gist

I loved watching this play and learning how the students got into their respective characters. It was such a joy to experience, even though some scenes had me covering my mouth in shock. The treatment scenes were equally amusing and horrifying, specifically when you could hear the characters receiving treatment. But the emotional blows I received from each and every character are what followed me back home and now take up residence in my mind.

This is such a memorable play that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

If you’re on the fence about going to this miraculous play, I must encourage you to step inside of the Black Box Theatre and watch it anyway. The Albion College Theatre Department will be running four more shows this weekend: Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

About Lindsay Ratcliffe 9 Articles
Lindsay Ratcliffe is a sophomore from Flat Rock, MI. She is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major. Lindsay loves journalism because it gives her a chance to write about things she cares about in ways that can really affect people. When she's not writing, you can find her jamming out to music. Contact Lindsay via email at lr10@albion.edu.

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