Chicago Is Abuzz About TimeLine’s Premiere Of 'The Vibrator Play'

The Vibrator Play

No matter the era, women and technology go together like science and industry. Smartphones and iPads generate Girl Power today just as switchboards, dictaphones, typewriters and fax machines empowered white collar working women of the 20th Century. During the 1940s, blue collar assembly lines became more colorful as millions of “Rosie the Riveters” temporarily took over male factory jobs to produce World War II supplies. Even non-working women of the past have been energized by their devices: The mass appeal of microwaves in the 1970s let homemakers make better use of their time while, a century earlier, Victorian ladies made use of their vibrators.

Wait, what?

The Vibrator Play

Rochelle Therrien (left) with Melissa Canciller. Photo by Lara Goetsch

That’s right. After Thomas Edison invented the electric light in the 1880s, scientist and inventor Dr. Givings created a vibrator! Only instead of letting women become more self-sufficient, the machine was used to treat “female hysteria.” The topic was tackled in the 2011 rom-com “Hysteria” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Felicity Jones; in the book “The Technology of Orgasm” by Rachel P. Maines, originally published in 1999; and in “In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play” which garnered three Tony Award nominations for 2010.

In her play, Pulitzer Prize finalist and Wilmette native Sarah Ruhl mixes history with humor to illuminate the way in which women’s ignorance of their bodies and emotions was exploited by male physicians who would control them through misdiagnosis.

“During the Victorian era when this play is set, women weren’t supposed to exercise their desires or their thoughts, and a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ was often used to silence them,” explains Mechelle Moe, who is directing the Chicago premiere production currently performing at TimeLine Theatre Company.

“Now, in our current political and social climate, women are still fighting for their voice,” continues Moe. “This smartly written play – a comedy that deals so thoughtfully with complex issues around intimacy in relationships of all kinds – provides a platform for the female voice, helping women be heard.”

“The Vibrator Play” features the acting talents of Anish Jethmalani, Edgar Sanchez, Dana Tretta, Melissa Canciller, Joel Ewing, Krystel McNeil and Rochelle Therrien, as well as scenic design by Sarah JHP Watkins, costume design by Alison Siple, lighting design by Brandon Wardell, and sound design by Andrew Hansen, who also composed the music for the play.

Members of the cast and dramaturge Maren Robinson will participate in post-show talks on Thursday, Nov. 30, Wednesday, Dec. 6 and Tuesday, Dec. 12. Informal pre-show discussions starting one hour before performances on Wednesday, Nov. 15 and Sunday, Dec. 3 are also offered. On Sunday, Dec. 10, experts will cover the themes and issues of the play during the post-show Sunday Scholars Panel Discussion.

“In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play” performs through Dec. 16 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Discounted rates for groups of 10+ are available. For tickets ($27.50 – $56.50) and details, visit timelinetheatre.com.

(Photo credit, top: Rochelle Therrien and Anish Jethmalani. Photo by Joe Mazza / Brave Lux, Inc.)

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.