Dohyun Gracia Shin

[Theatre Review] In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play 본문

Theatre Reviews/Eng

[Theatre Review] In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play

Gracia Shin 2017. 7. 21. 22:15

In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play. Written by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Kang-yim Lee. Arko Theatre, Daehakro Seoul, Korea. 2 May 2017. (38th Seoul Theater Festival)


             A “vibrator” has been coiled with the flow of feminism: from symbol of misogyny to that of female subjectivity. Women have been “cured” in “right” way with a vibrator—their “womanly” symptom of hysteria. At the same time, women get to adapt a vibrator for their own sexual pleasure, showing their own subjectivity. Sarah Ruhl’s play In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play (2009) walks with this history of a vibrator, starting from segmented social gender roles to realisation of women characters on their own subjectivity. Ruhl leaves a social comment on gender roles, making use of two materials: “the next room” and “vibrator.” Characters of In the Next Room abandon their gender roles, transgressing the gender boundaries set by the society.

             Theatre company Haeng-gil represents the message of in the Next Room through the usage of the domain onstage. The play starts with characters performing their gender roles in their designated place. Mr. Givings (Jin-seok Choi) works in his office, the area of profession, while Mrs. Givings (Ji-soo Lee), the angel of the house, lulls her child in the living room in cheerful manner. Escorting his wife, Daldry (Nam-soo Jin) instructs her what to do, while Mrs. Daldry (Na-mi Kim) gets her hysteria treated for she is not able to perform her duty as an angel of the house. Annie (Young-sook Song), an assistant, is an only character who crosses the boundary between two stage areas with her androgenic characteristic. She is an unmarried woman of mature age, who does not meet the expected social criteria as a woman at the time. She speaks in cold and low tone, and performs her work as a profession instead of as an angel of the house. As the gender role divides the characters in binary genders, the door also divides the stage into two areas: the professional area and the domestic area. However, as the play proceeds, characters enter in and out the next room, transgressing the other designated area. They put their feet on the division line. In the process, they get to question the gender roles of society, consciously and subconsciously.

             While representing the designated social gender roles through its divided space, theatre company Haeng-gil deliberately vaguely erases their significance through the scene of waltz. Female characters gayly dance waltz, playing with the gender roles of the society. Mrs. Givings and Annie perform the role of male counterpart, imitating gentlemen’s gestures. At the time, they share their emotion in bonding, forgetting their expected behaviours as women. Their excited feeling goes with the background music of crescendo. However, as the clock of discipline strikes, their action stops and their gender roles are again expressed. They tidy up their dress, and behave themselves. Every character returns to their designated spot. Mrs. Daldry goes back to her home, the side of her husband, and Nanny also exits to take care of her children. As Givings enters and turns on the switch of electronic lamp, the music stops and no one but Mrs. Givings is left in the living room, which once was the place of female bonding. Then Mrs. Givings returns back to immature, young wife who is instructed by her husband.

             However, Mrs. Givings gets to question her situation while interacting with other female characters. Although it may seems like a simple chat, Mrs. Givings’ lines make a point on the stereotypes that burden her. In the first scene, she seems to express mother’s “instinctive” love, lulling her baby in the living room. Yet, her daughter shows more of her intimacy to nanny, who actually cares and milks her. As she realizes the situation, Mrs. Givings asks nanny the question:

MRS. GIVINGS. (. . .) And then she came out and clambered right on my breast and tried to eat me, she was so hungry, so hungry it terrified me—her hunger. And I thought: is that the first emotion? Hunger? And not hunger for food but wanting to eat other people? Specifically one’s mother? And then I thought—isn’t it strange, isn’t it strange about Jesus? That is to say, about Jesus being a man? For it is women who are eaten—who turn their bodies into food—I gave up my blood—there was so much blood—and I gave up my blood—there was so much blood—and I gave up my body (. . .) (47)

From this monologue, Mrs. Givings shows a different aspect of the mother’s expected role: that the mother’s love may not be “instinctive.” It may be “fear,” unlike the expectation that is burdened to mothers without suspicion. Furthermore, this monologue expresses how the notion of gender roles can be so easily disturbed from the question provoked by a lady who may seem to be immature and the simplest, which has been kept characterised by Yoo’s lively acting. At this time, Yoo’s highly bubbly tone rings a different implication, leaving a lingering uncanniness. If it is the gender role of women that is to feed and foster children with her self-sacrifice, why the gender of Jesus Christ is the man, who seems to perform similar gender role of women? Mrs. Givings’ question, which may be accepted as out of context, cleverly makes a point on gender role issue.


             Mrs. Givings’ question also points out the hegemonic power behind the gender role division. Givings always locks the next room, not allowing Mrs. Givings to reach the vibrator. With help of her friend, Mrs. Daldry, Mrs. Givings opens the door of the next room by herself. By intruding the taboo domain of hegemony power, Mrs. Givings proclaims as below, raising high up the vibrator (or penis), the synecdoche of phallocentric hegemony:

MRS. DALDRY. Oh, no only the doctor can administer the treatment.

MRS. Givings. I don’t see why. It looks quite simple. In this day and age, all one has to know how to do is press a button or pull a switch. I’ll hold it for you. (64)

The vibrator procedure is only conducted by the professional male subject or the honorary male who has been qualified by the male subjects. In the scene, the subjectivity gets shifted to female characters. Woman conducts the procedure to another woman, and even woman by herself touches and operates the taboo penis. Her orgasm (or paroxysm) is controlled by herself. They realise that they can control themselves with their subjectivity that was repressed, and burst into tears and laughter of joy and freedom. As expressing the elevated exultation, the background music intensely supports Yoo and Kim’s bursting loud expression. The deliberate dazzling lights penetrates the audiences’ eyes, boldly and solely accentuating two women characters and their bursting expressions. Its presentation itself is a strong message delivered by director Lee—indeed a grand finale of two suppressed women characters.

             Like this, In the Next Room points out paradoxes of social gender roles. For this kind of criticism may disturbs one’s former experiences, one may go through uncomfortable time while watching this play. However, In the Next Room helps them digest the theme easier by its characteristic as a comedy genre. The ambiance of the play is gay and hilarious as the “vibrator play” presents to the audience. The witty aspect of In the Next Room lies in this point: that the audience may get the point of social criticism in relaxed and enjoyable manner. Therefore, the material subject of this play may seem provocative, but the extent of criticism is quite gentle. Also the criticism that this review draws out from the play may be not even a main dish of this production. However, in the burst of laughter that filled the Arko theatre, there was a clear implicit that Sarah Ruhl has suggested in her play, which may work as a hint to unlock the door of the next room.

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