The dawn of electricity (and liberation?) central to 'In the Next Room'

Christina Baldwin in Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room.
Christina Baldwin in Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room.
Photo by Drew Trampe
Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) takes audiences back to the late 19th century, when electricity was new to homes and some intriguing advances were made in medicine, including the invention of the vibrator.

"This is at the dawn of electricity, after which everything will be plugged in. It will be hugely liberating. Will the challenge for our generation be when to turn [devices] off? Raw intimacy and emotion is way more radical than an easy connection," says Sarah Rasmussen, who is directing the Jungle Theater's production of the show, which opens this week. 

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This isn't Rasmussen's first time with the material. She was the assistant director of the play's Broadway run. "I already knew that I loved Sarah's plays, but I got a stronger sense of her music as a writer," she says.

Ruhl's intoxicating, poetic language offers similar rewards -- and challenges -- of working with Shakespeare. "The sound of the language carries as much meaning as the words do. There is a heightened poetic sense," she says. "These are real people, but they have their own particular way of speaking. I really love that as a director. In rehearsal, her words are so much fun to say that you have to make sure people don't get lost. I love that tension of the theatrical against the every day."

The show plays with parallel storytelling, with events happening inside the doctor's office, and then in the rest of his plush upper-class home. That ability is something the stage does distinctly well, and one Ruhl uses to great effect, Rasmussen says.

"She is playing off the traditions of a well-made play. That is sort of fun for our generation. There was a generation that moved away from that, now we can take from that and let it be innovative and be our own."

Jungle founder Bain Boehlke has designed the production. "Bain was a dancer early on in his career, and he has the most incredible understanding in how space moves and how actors move in space. He and I spent hours talking through what happens in the ending when the play moves to a different space. The emotion doesn't stop for the set design. It's always led by the truth of the characters. This set supports that. Bain thinks of things on the set as other characters in the play," Rasmussen says.

Rasmussen grew up in South Dakota, and would travel to the Twin Cities to do shows. After college, she spent a couple of years working in the region before moving on to nationwide opportunities. However, she still takes on projects in the area. Earlier this year, she directed a show at Mixed Blood, and her next work will be with Ten Thousand Things Theater.

The cast includes Christina Baldwin, John Middleton, Annie Enneking, Bradley Greenwald, and Emily Gunyou-Halaas.

"I love Minneapolis actors. There is really something special in this town. It felt like the right alchemy for Sarah's text. We did a reading of it, and I had the voices I heard in my head. That's the casting," Rasmussen says. "Sometimes, acting training in this country is that to be real is to be small or to be inarticulate. When you are putting something on a stage, I value something that can be real and true and epic and soaring at the same time."


In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)
Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Friday through Dec. 16
For information, call 612.822.7063 or visit online
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Jungle Theater

2951 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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