Marjorie Lyons Playhouse presents "In the Next Room" with guest director

SHREVEPORT, LA — Marika Becz, an actor, director, theatre professor, and writer based in southern California, will guest direct the Victorian-era drawing room comedy In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play at Centenary College’s Marjorie Lyons Playhouse in late February. The run includes evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on February 22-24 and a 2:00 p.m. matinee on February 25.

Becz will be in residence at Centenary through February 25. In addition to directing seven Centenary theatre department actors in MLP’s production of In The Next Room, Becz also presented a public lecture on storytelling and community and is teaching the theatre department’s Friday lab course for majors, focusing on performance technique.

In the Next Room was commissioned by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre from playwright Sarah Ruhl and premiered at the Theatre in February 2009. The Broadway production at the Lyceum Theatre ran from November 2009 to January 2010 and earned three Tony Award nominations. Since 2010, the play has been staged in Australia, Peru, New Zealand, London, and Chicago, among other locations.

The play is set in Saratoga Springs, New York in the 1880s, in the home of a Dr. Givings and his young wife, Catherine. Givings is a serious and thoughtful doctor, obsessed with the science of electricity and driven by a desire to help people. He has invented a contraption – which modern-day audiences will recognize as a vibrator – to help treat women for “hysteria.” The play has a basis in fact and is the product of Ruhl’s research into late 19th century medical theory and practice.

“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,” said Ruhl in a 2011 interview. “I learned that vibrators were part of the healing treatment at Saratoga Springs. I thought there might be a play in it.”

The result is a brisk and literary comedy that carries great emotional weight as it tackles issues of love, intimacy, relationships, and loss against the backdrop of a clash between two eras: the Victorian and the dawning of the machine age. From the characters’ perspectives, the treatments for female “hysteria” are clinical, not at all erotic or sexual. Many of the play’s laughs draw on the fact that the modern audience interprets the characters’ experiences in an entirely different light.

“I think one of the most challenging things is to make sure it doesn't become a play that's ‘all about the invention of the vibrator,’ says director Becz. “That misses the point.  The vibrator is certainly a catalyst for lots of revelation in the story, but this play is all about human relationships, and how we can't really know another person until we really know ourselves, and we can't come all the way into ourselves until we feel things. So in the rehearsal process, I am staying very focused on the actors' process of deep seated emotions, desires, and relationship with self.  From there, everything can unravel and then mend!”  

Centenary first year student Anthony Castillo, who plays Dr. Givings, echoes Becz’s assessment of the overarching significance of the work.

“I raised an eyebrow when I read the title…everyone does,” says Castillo. “But you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how the script handles the subject. The play is about people and relationships.”

Castillo is joined by Caroline Dopson as Catherine Givings. Harrison Starrett, Elizabeth Beagley, Montel McKenzie, Kennedy Wilcher, and Grace Rambo appear as clients, employees, and acquaintances of Dr. and Mrs. Givings. Centenary theatre department chair Don Hooper has created a set design reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, drawing on a source of inspiration – “Chekhov and Ibsen and the notion of the 19th century interior” – that Ruhl has also cited as influential in her writing process for the play.

Tickets for In the Next Room are $15 for general admission, $10 for military and seniors, and $5 for students with valid ID. Admission is free for all current Centenary faculty, staff, and students with valid ID. Tickets are available at centenary.edu/mlptickets and at the door.

Director Marika Becz will host a “talk back” after the performance on Friday, February 23. Audience members are welcome to stay after the show and ask questions to the director, cast, and production team.