Intimate play “In The Next Room” challenges actors

University of Indianapolis theatre students have been working with Director and Adjunct Faculty Ronn Johnston since November 2019 for their upcoming production of “In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play).” According to Johnston, the themes of the play revolve around problematic gender and intimacy dynamics in the Victorian period. Johnston said that the play follows the story of an American doctor, Dr. Givings, and his wife as he tries to find a cure for hysteria through a form of therapy using vibrators.

Playing the role of Dr. Givings is sophomore theatre and communication double major Kyle Jeanor. He said that he has been acting since his freshman year of high school and “In The Next Room” is his fifth production with the UIndy Theatre Department. According to Jeanor, Dr. Givings is a character that has a complicated and non-intimate personality.

“My character is very analytical,” Jeanor said. “He looks at things with a very black and white perspective and not a lot of gray, which is very different from me as a person and that has been a fun challenge.”

According to Jeanor, when unpacking the play a little bit more, he began to realize that the vibrator aspect of the play was not nearly as important as its coloquial title might allude to. Jeanor said that the play’s importance lies in the physical and sexual separation that Dr. and Mrs. Givings experience.

Senior theatre major Destiny Heugel was cast in the role of Mrs. Givings. Heugel has been acting since her sophomore year of high school,  and she has performed and directed several plays at UIndy, she said. According to Heugel, she enjoys playing the role of Mrs. Givings due to the character’s complex persona.

“I liked that character [Mrs. Givings] the most,” Heugel said. “She is very frustrated and sad, but also very funny… so I really wanted that role.”

Heugel said that one of her challenges throughout the rehearsal process is dealing with the reality of Mrs. Givings’ emotions. She said that during rehearsal, the emotions that she acts through Mrs. Givings feel like they are her own due to the intensity of the scenes, but she is able to differentiate after rehearsal ends.

“It’s really emotional and she [Mrs. Givings] pretty much never leaves the stage,” Heugel said. “There’s a lot of really emotional parts and I don’t get a break.”

Some scenes in the play are intimate, and to help actors and actresses approach these scenes, the Theatre Department hired Intimacy Director Samantha Kaufman. Intimate scenes in the play include kissing, orgasms and more according to Johnston. Heugel said that having Kaufman as an intimacy director helped put the actors and actresses at ease when practicing for those kinds of scenes.

Kaufman said that one of the challenges she faced when directing the intimate scenes was getting actors to feel comfortable. As an intimacy director, Kaufman said that she assists with actors and actresses that are in heightened emotional states on stage.

“True consent only occurs when there is the availability of ‘no,’” Kaufman said. “It’s [part of] making sure that, when they [actors and actresses] do say yes, they have all of the necessary information.”

Many of the cast members had already been through intimacy workshops, Kaufman said. This allowed her to get into the essence and the deeper meaning of the play much more quickly, she said.

Heugel said people should see the play because it is a good show that brings awareness to women’s sexual needs. According to Johnston, “In The Next Room” brings awareness to people getting locked up in technology, making it difficult to learn how to do the hard work in relationships.

“The play is really about intimacy and connection,” Johnston said. “Even though [the play] is taking place almost a century and a half ago, the author is talking about issues we have today.”

Photo Gallery by Kiara Conley

Correction Feb. 19, 2020 at 2:13 p.m.: In an earlier version of this article Ronn Johnston’s name was spelled incorrectly. This has since been updated to the correct spelling.

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