Comedy looks at Victorian ignorance of female sexual desire

April 12, 2012 | Arts, UToday
By Angela Riddel

The University of Toledo Department of Theatre and Film will present Sarah Ruhl’s thrice Tony-nominated play, “In the Next Room,” Friday, April 13, through Sunday, April 15, and Wednesday, April 18, through Sunday, April 22.

Dr. Givings (Ahmad Atallah) is kissed by Mrs. Givings (Jillian Albert) in this scene from the UT production of “In the Next Room.”

Performances will be at 7:30 p.m., except for Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., in the Center for Performing Arts Center Theatre.

“In the Next Room” received Tony nominations in 2010 for Best Play, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, and Best Costume Design of a Play.

Theatre Lecturer Irene Alby, who is directing the UT production, said the meaning of the play is deeper than its title might suggest.

“This play is about the way we label things, according to our subjective cultural context, in order to make them ‘safe.’ Once we change those labels — or they are changed for us — we are forced to either take responsibility for our actions or to run away from that responsibility,” she said. “Hence, a vibrator is perfectly acceptable as long as it is used for medical reasons, but if we label the treatment as ‘sexual,’ it completely changes the way we perceive it.”

Set in the 1880s at the dawn of the age of electricity and based on the bizarre historical fact that doctors used vibrators to treat “hysterical” women (and some men), the play centers on a physician and his wife and how his new therapy affects their household.

In a seemingly perfect, well-to-do Victorian home, proper gentleman and scientist Dr. Givings has innocently invented an extraordinary new device — the vibrator — for treating “hysteria” in women and, occasionally, in men. Adjacent to the doctor’s laboratory, his young and energetic wife tries to tend to their newborn daughter — and wonders exactly what is going on in the next room. When a new “hysterical” patient and her husband bring a wet nurse and their own complicated relationship into the physician’s home, Dr. and Mrs. Givings must examine the nature of their own marriage and what it truly means to love someone.

“Part of my goal has been to get across how humans have always tried to understand themselves better by negotiating the relationship between mind and body, sexuality and the soul, our sensual desires and our need for transcendence,” Alby said. “Over the centuries, different societies have found different answers to these questions. In fact, even concepts we take for granted, such as marriage, have been defined differently by different cultures throughout the ages. Through intermezzos created by a chorus of talented actors, we explore these issues.”

UT students featured in the production are Ahmad “AJ” Atallah as Dr. Givings, Jillian Albert as Catherine Givings, JoEllen Jacob as Sabrina Daldry, Chellsea Cutino as Annie, Dora Manu as Elizabeth and DJ Helmkamp as Mr. Daldry. Jeffrey Burden, a 2004 UT alumnus, plays Leo Irving. And members of the chorus are UT students Caribbea Danko-McGhee, Sean Koogan and Liz Thomas.

“In the Next Room” will be the premiere UT production for Daniel Thobias, assistant professor of theatre and costume designer, who joined the department this semester.
Equally versatile in costume and set design, he has prepared Victorian costume renderings and a dynamic scenic model of a Victorian home with a doctor’s office.

“Irene Alby is a gifted director of farce and comedy. Her directing will be complemented by Daniel Thobias’ outstanding costumes and set design,” said James Hill, professor and chair of the Department of Theatre and Film, and the play’s producer.

Tickets are $13 for general admission; $11 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors; and $7 for students. They can be purchased online at, by calling 419.530.2375, or by visiting the Center for Performing Arts Box Office.

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