“In the Next Room” hits the stage at MSU

Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Theatre Department kicks off the first show of the year with the play “In the Next Room.” The play advocates for femininity and explores women’s sexuality in the 1890s, both of which were considered taboo topics. Dr. Givings experiments with clinical devices to cure women’s hysteria by bringing women to orgasm. While in his at-home medical office, located off the living room, his wife attempts to tend to their newborn but becomes interested in her husband’s work in the next room. When a new “hysterical” patient and her husband introduce their relationship struggles, the Giving’s analyze their own marriage and its flaws. 

Director and Minnesota State Mankato, University student, Sarah Honerman, shared her excitement and stress about the preparation for opening night. 

“In terms of the rehearsal process, we started the second day of school,” said Honerman. “We cast the show the first day of school, and we’ve just been rehearsing since. In terms of me prepping ahead of time, I’ve been prepping since last spring. It’s been a labor of love.”

Sarah Ruhl’s work has always been favored by Honerman. “In The Next Room” was specifically chosen because it’s a subject that is still being spoken about and advocated for today.

“I fell in love with it several years ago,” said Honerman. “Now that I’m a wife and mother, this show really resonated with me.” 

Since the play touches on uncomfortable topics such as orgasms and sexual curiosity, it can bring uneasy feelings to both the cast and the audience. 

“Despite the fact that this play is set in, you know, the 1890s it’s still a very relevant message today. Being able to communicate with others, it’s just so important,” said Honerman.

“The biggest challenge of the play was getting the cast and crew comfortable discussing the uncomfortable subject matter”. Honerman said she noticed how the cast’s comfortability shifted as they prepared for the show. 

“I think helping actors not feel super self-conscious about the subject matter at hand and being able to find the humor in these moments. That allows the audience then to laugh and breathe as well and not just feel awkward,” said Honerman. “Honestly they’ve all grown incredibly throughout this process. It’s been really cool to watch their comfort levels shift and change.” 

The play introduces vulnerability to the stage which can be difficult for some. Natalie Suarez, a senior at MSU, plays the main role of Mrs. Givings, a curious wife. Suarez auditioned for this role because she was asked by Honerman.

“[Honerman] was like, ‘do you know about this play?’” said Suarez. “I love this story. I think it’s really good.” 

Suarez prepared for her role by reading about the historical relevance behind the show. 

“I read a lot about the history of it, the hysteria symptoms and the treatments at the time, just to kind of see what the world was like at the time,” said Suarez. “It’s really helpful to put your brain in the perspective of the time period, especially with historical stuff like this.” 

When putting on a show as powerful as “In The Next Room,” historical accuracy is necessary. Along with Suarez’s preparation, she shared her challenges while practicing for opening night.  

“It’s just a challenging show, like in every aspect, like mentally, physically, emotionally,” said Suarez. “Vulnerability is the biggest thing. Learning how to be vulnerable with myself and with my classmates.” 

Even though this show comes with challenges, the wit and intelligence in Ruhl’s writing is what makes the show entertaining.

“[Ruhl] takes very serious subject matters and is able to make the audience laugh, but still get the point. At the same time, this is such a heavy subject area in terms of how doctors treated hysteria and what hysteria even was,” said Honerman. “[Sarah Ruhl] has got such a poetical way of speaking and hitting humor but also hitting the heart of what she’s trying to get across.”

Overall, Honerman hopes the audiences take a meaningful message from the play.  

“The biggest thing I hope audiences get out of the show is knowing that if we are unable to communicate our emotions if we just bottle them up and don’t talk that it can just lead to this isolation that becomes so hard to dig ourselves out of,” said Honerman.

“In The Next Room” debuts at MSU Sept. 21-24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Andreas Theatre at the Earley Center for Performing Arts. For the general public, tickets are $10, $9 for seniors and children under 16 and $5 for MSU students.

Header Photo: The opening for “In The Next Room” was yesterday, Sept. 21, and shows until Sept. 24 in the Andreas Theatre. The play challenges how mental and sexual health for women was tackled in the past, and what it means today. (Lilly Anderson/The Reporter)

Write to Anna Woods at Anna.Woods@mnsu.edu

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