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Two Rooms, One Revolving Stage

Set Design for “In The Next Room or the vibrator play”
November 7, 2017

Production Photo of In The Next Room

Production Photo of In The Next Room
In The Next Room, or the vibrator play (2017). Photo by Dan Norman.

Creating a fully-realized Victorian set is not a task for a weak-willed designer. Transplanting a play originally written for a proscenium stage to a thrust stage adds yet another level of complexity. But Jeni O’Malley took up the challenge.

O’Malley is the set designer for the University of Minnesota Theatre Arts & Dance production of In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, a Tony-nominated script written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Sarah Ruhl. In the play, a doctor in Victorian America innocently invents an extraordinary device for treating "hysteria" in women: the vibrator. Adjacent to his laboratory, his young and energetic wife wonders exactly what is going on in the next room. The play touches on race, gender, power, and “nature,” while also challenging the way we think about sexuality.

Because In The Next Room, or the vibrator play was originally written for a proscenium stage, O’Malley immediately recognized the challenges and opportunities of producing this play on the Stoll Thrust at the Rarig Center.

O’Malley says embracing the limitations and benefits of the thrust stage to create two separate rooms has been the most difficult aspect of her scenic design process. “Negotiating the inevitable sight line issues is a challenge,” she said. “What compromises do we make? What cannot be sacrificed?” Her task was further complicated by the presence of the production’s turntable stage. Not only did the set need to be in a thrust space, it had to be able to spin all the way around and still serve the needs of the play.

Even though it takes place over a hundred years ago, O’Malley considers In The Next Room, or the vibrator play to be very relevant today. By the end of the show, O’Malley hopes the audience leaves the theatre with a “deeper message of women's sexuality and the empowerment of knowing yourself.  This show opens a dialogue.”

In December, O’Malley will design costumes for Dance Revolution’s Artifacts (Go).  Her final University of Minnesota costume designs will be featured this spring in the Guthrie Theatre/University of Minnesota Actor Training Program’s Class of 2018 production of Argonautika by Mary Zimmerman. After graduating, O’Malley plans to work as a freelance costume and scenic designer in the Twin Cities. Visit http://www.jeniomalley.com/ for more information about her latest work.    

In The Next Room or the vibrator play is directed by Kate Powers and presented on the Stoll Thrust Stage.  Tickets start at $7 for students.  Performances run Thursday, November 2 through Sunday, November 12, 2017.  Visit z.umn.edu/itnr for tickets and more information.