Subscribe for 17¢ / day
021618-mis-ent-next-room

Matt McDaniel and Annie Sacry rehearse a scene from the University of Montana School of Theatre & Dance production of "In The Next Room, (or The Vibrator Play)."

The time is "the dawn of the age of electricity; and after the Civil War; circa 1880s," according to playwright Sarah Ruhl's script.

Women are routinely diagnosed with "hysteria," a nebulous emotional syndrome. For treatment, they turn to experts like Dr. Givings and his electrified device. It is indeed what the title, "In the Next Room, (or The Vibrator Play)," indicates. Ruhl uses this historically accurate oddity to explore themes of gender and female sexuality in a comedy of manners.

"It's a contemporary play for contemporary audiences. It's designed to provoke conversation and thoughtful consideration," said John Kenneth DeBoer, director of the production for University of Montana School of Theatre & Dance. "This is the kind of freedom that academic theater gives to you, to take chances and risks that don't always come in commercial theater and community theater."

Catherine, the doctor's wife, is a "passionate woman," said Annie Sacry, a Bachelor of Fine Arts senior. She's "very talkative, very loquacious, she is curious." She and another patient, unsatisfied by their husbands, seek out more "treatment" before ultimately coming to terms with their spouses.

In Sacry's view, Ruhl is underscoring that women "also have desires and their emotions have just as much weight as a man's," she said, which sees as "something that we continually have to reiterate."

***

The play, with a small cast of seven, will be staged in the Masquer Theatre, the smaller space in the PAR/TV Building on campus.

DeBoer, an associate professor in the program, stepped in to direct. His colleague, Jillian Campana, was scheduled to direct but is teaching in Egypt. The other female faculty members are directing their own productions this spring.

DeBoer said the faculty selected the plays for UM's 2017-18 season in the weeks after the 2016 presidential election and sees a "through line of political awareness and reactionism." The remaining plays are a main-stage production of Green Day's musical, "American Idiot," and a stripped-down production of Carol Ann Duffy's adaptation of the medieval play "Everyman."

The process is based on curriculum, and they try to include a classic play, a musical, piece that addresses contemporary themes, and a play by a female writer, he said. They mix and match those qualities: the classic play might be a musical.

***

Matt McDaniel is portraying Dr. Givings as his final project for his Master of Fine Arts in acting.

McDaniel was working in Chicago when he got an urge to live somewhere closer to nature, which he finds "cathartic and invites inspiration," and came here in time to audition for the master's program.

Three years of classes in various theories and performance styles culminates in this role, and a final defense of a written paper.

DeBoer said that in general, "undergraduates learn skills but they don't necessarily master them."

"A master's student is supposed to be able to articulate the discipline at a high level, so the final creative project is that last chance to both practice the form and articulate the form," he said.

McDaniel was cast over a year ago and has spent a significant amount of time researching for his role, with a full notebook to prove it. If he's done all this well, however, the audience won't notice.

"In the final product, it should disappear," McDaniel said. "You should just see a story played out in front of you." Paraphrasing David Mamet, he said, "you should just be doing. You should shed the materialistic, analytical information out of it, and just play the truth of the moment and the character in their circumstances."

McDaniel and his fellow cast members won't be able to disappear. The show is being staged in the round, with audiences on all sides. He found it freeing. "The actor can kind of let loose a little bit. They feel more human in an arena setting."

It provides the opportunity for very subtle character work, such as projecting confidence while nervously joining his hands behind his back.

Sacry said they've worked on posture and the religious underpinnings of the way people were expected to carry themselves. During the play, you might catch small indications, such as the amount of personal space people gave each other. She enjoys acting in the arena set-up, since it provides the opportunity to "play with almost every angle and every side."

0
0
0
0
0
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.