Tonight marks the first performance of Chautauqua Theater Company’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), and with it, the beginning of another theatrical season.
The Victorian-set show tells the story of a doctor in the early years of electricity attempting to treat female patients with a new device. It previews at 8 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater, and opens tomorrow.
CTC Co-Artistic Director Andrew Borba, who is taking over the role of sole artistic director when Vivienne Benesch leaves Chautauqua Institution in July, called Room’s playwright Sarah Ruhl one of the best in the country. The show was a 2010 Tony Award nominee.
But that isn’t enough to distract some from the controversial name.
“There’s been a little bit of people, you know, vocalizing that it’s inappropriate somehow for us to be producing a play that has the word ‘vibrator’ in the title,” said Benesch, who is directing Zayd Dohrn’s The Profane at Chautauqua later this month.
She said she wasn’t expecting her last season to be controversial.
In fact, though she’s had negative responses after a show before, Benesch said Room is the first show in her 12-year tenure that’s gotten that type of reaction before the production.
Still, she stands by the show.
“It’s just really good theater,” Benesch said. “It’s a beautiful play.”
The show explores the role of women and their emotions in Victorian times.
“I think it is a feminist play, in that Sarah Ruhl gives space and attention to a particular feminine experience and need for intimacy,” she said. “And very few writers really do that well.”
Borba’s fear is that the community won’t trust CTC concerning the show, but he doesn’t expect everyone to like all the shows they do.
“I find personally the text of The Taming of the Shrew much more offensive than In the Next Room,” he said.
In August, Borba is directing William Shakespeare’s Shrew at Chautauqua, but with a twist. The play will be performed with a genderbent cast in an attempt to subvert the sexism he sees in the original version.
In the Next Room is being directed by Larissa Kokernot, a Los Angeles-based director and a new face at Chautauqua. She was invited here by Borba, who played the title role in her 2015 production of Uncle Vanya in Los Angeles.
“The thing that I hope is that Chautauquans act like Chautauquans and come see the play so that they can actually form their own opinion,” Benesch said.
She believes the play shows how gadgets can’t replace authentic connection, something she calls both a contemporary and timeless theme.
“If this gorgeous, sensitive, intelligent, funny piece is inappropriate for Chautauqua, then we’re heading in the wrong
direction,” Benesch said.