In the Next Room Vibes Well on Stage

How many times
have you practiced giving paroxysms to your classmates on stage? Unless you are
Asher Abrahms PO ’18, you probably don’t have much experience.

In Pomona’s
production of “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” Abrahms’ character, Dr.
Givings, uses a vibrator to treat female ‘hysteria.’ In order to prepare for the performance,
which premiered in Allen Theatre on March 5, Abrahms estimated that he practiced this act roughly
one hundred and fifty times. 

This play is
certainly not for the faint of heart. However, the promiscuity serves a
purpose. The comedy, set in Victorian times, examines the quest for female sexual healing through its highly vocal female characters and jests at gender roles, sexuality and class. 

Due to complications, the original director, Pomona College theatre professor Betty
Bernhard, stepped down two-and-a-half weeks into rehearsal. Giovanni
Ortega, a visiting assistant professor of theatre, took over the position. Ortega used his experience from the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of California, Los Angeles to work with the students.

“When you do things like this, you have to
come from a very vulnerable place,” Ortega said. 

Many thought that Ortega did his job well. Jhanneu Roberts CMC ’18, praising Ortega’s work, said, “Especially when you are working with college students, you need someone who is energetic like Giovanni.”

Izzy Simon PO ’18 agreed, and added, “He was so dedicated. I really felt like I was in good hands.” 

Starting with
auditions, the actors were asked to step outside of their comfort zones. The students performed monologues in front
of Bernhard, the stage manager and the assistant stage manager. 

Following her
two monologues, Suki White SC ’18 was asked to make an orgasm noise. The
same went for Simon. 

“They had me demonstrate my pleasure sounds
and make up a song on the spot,” Simon said.

Bernhard asked
Abrahms to create a fictitious scenario in which he labeled some everyday
symptom of hysteria. Immediately, he thought of a bicycle seat and went on to
improvise a seven-minute monologue about why riding on a bicycle seat drives
women to hysteria.

“It was by far the most crazy and fun experience I’ve ever
had in an audition,” Abrahms said.

Between
auditions and performance week, the actors lost their inhibitions. 

“It didn’t feel like they were doing it just to do it; it was furthering the
plot,” said Lucas Ayenew PZ ’17.

However, tapping into that sexuality was incredibly difficult. The director had to gently guide his actors through this process. 

“You really have to create a camaraderie with the group of people you are working with because they have to go to a very deep place,” Ortega said. 

The scenes
between Annie, played by Simon, and Mrs. Daldry, played by White,
were particularly fascinating to Hannah Sands SC ’17. 

“My favorite scene was when Annie used the
vibrator on Mrs. Daldry, and then they cuddled after,” Sands said. “I truly felt they were in
love.”

Simon and White
eventually shared an onstage kiss in Act Two. Ortega thinks that each character
has a specific and beautiful scene, and for Simon and White, this is it. 

“There’s no one I’d rather kiss on stage,” Simon said. “We were both aware that it was happening and both very professional.”

That
said, it took the two girls time to become comfortable. However, with time and
practice, the actors grew used to the idea.

During the March 7 performance, the entire onstage cast broke
character. Chaos took the stage during the scene where Mr. Daldry, played by
William Chen PO’18, grunted while flirting with Mrs. Givings, played by Isabel
Semler PZ ’15. The onstage cast had to turn away from the audience so they
wouldn’t laugh.

Simon, also on stage, stayed facing towards the audience.

“I
could see them laughing and biting their tongues,” she said. “I had to stuff my
handkerchief in my mouth so I wouldn’t laugh.”

Many of the
actors felt that this was a moment straight out of Saturday Night Live. Although it was slightly unprofessional, Ortega
supported their ability to have fun on stage. 

“If you as cast members are
making each other laugh on stage, then you are doing your job, because this is
comedy,” he said. 

Abrahms said, “It was a
beautiful mix of messages and comedy, and the most fun I have
ever had on stage.”

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