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Vibrators in the Victorian era? It’s Rep’s latest comedy

Actress Giannina Ocampo is prepping up by reading titles that inspired Sarah Ruhl to write ‘In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),’ such as ‘The Technology of Orgasm’ by Rachel Maines
/ 02:30 AM March 18, 2017
Giannina Ocampo and Joshua Spafford in Repertory Philippines’ “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” directed by Chris Millado and opening March 24 —PHOTO BY JC INOCIAN

Giannina Ocampo and Joshua Spafford in Repertory Philippines’ “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” directed by Chris Millado and opening March 24 —PHOTO BY JC INOCIAN

During the 1880s, Jose Rizal was studying to be a doctor in Europe. Meanwhile, in the US, doctors were using vibrators to treat women for hysteria.

Repertory Philippines’ next play, Sarah Ruhl’s comedy “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” touches on this (touchy) subject matter.


Giannina Ocampo plays Catherine Givings, who is intrigued by the medical technology her doctor husband uses to treat anxious women and men.

Other women characters in the play are portrayed by Tami Monsod, Caisa Borromeo and Cara Barredo. Joshua Spafford, Hans Eckstein and Jef Flores round out the cast directed by Chris Millado, who will also direct Rep’s year-ender musical, “Hair.”


Insatiable curiosity

Ocampo is excited to breathe life into her character.

“Catherine’s a woman on the verge of finding herself and discovering what’s truly important to her. Her candor and innocence are so infectious and pure that you just begin to root for her and her relationships,” she says.

“Catherine has an insatiable curiosity for life and love. She’s also unafraid to speak her mind and challenge norms. For women to speak up so candidly during that time was quite ludicrous.”

To prepare for the role, she’s been reading books and watching films set in the 1880s. “I want to get into that frame of mind  so I can understand the setting better,” she says.

Her reading list includes titles that inspired Ruhl to write this play: “The Technology of Orgasm” by Rachel Maines, and “Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages” by Phyllis Rose.

Devices and de-stressing


While the characters in this play rely on a medical device for anxiety relief, Ocampo herself is not a gadget junkie.

“There really aren’t any devices that I can’t live without,” she says. “But it’s much easier when I do have my cell phone, to keep in touch with people, to listen to music, to read online and because, well, it’s a necessity these days. And my laptop, to do work and to browse the net.”

As for stress, it was actually after she got burned out in her corporate job that she shifted to acting. Since debuting with Rep’s Children’s Theatre, she’s gone on to act for Red Turnip Theater (“Time Stands Still”), Philippine Educational Theater Association (“3 Stars & A Sun”), and Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (“Jersey Boys”), among others.

These days, her go-to solution for relaxation is traveling. “I travel a lot. I work hard to travel, actually. I go to the beach as often as I can. The sea, sand and waves  relax me and just calm my soul.”

When work keeps her in the city, there are still other options.

“I run and do barre3 (an exercise regimen that incorporates ballet barre, Pilates and yoga). I spend time with my husband, my family and friends. Through all of that, there’s always good music, good food and good conversation. Those are the three essentials.”

Shifting gears

Set at a time when electricity had just been discovered, “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” explores a period when “the newly invented electronic vibrator was used to induce orgasms—then called ‘paroxysms’—to relieve men and women of their so-called hysterical tendencies,” says Rep in a statement.

It’s “a comedy that shifts gears,” says director Chris Millado in the same statement. “One moment it’s about how the vibrator was used for curing hysteria, then it switches and shows the reality of how women were subjected to a kind of physical and emotional neglect during that era… The issues of technology, intimacy and gender appealed to me as something that contemporary audiences might relate with.”

The show has set design by Mio Infante, costume design by Bonsai Cielo and lighting design by John Batalla. —CONTRIBUTED

Repertory Philippines’ “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” runs Mar. 24-Apr. 23 at Onstage Theater, Greenbelt 1, Makati.
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TAGS: Chris Millado, Comedy, Giannina Ocampo, hysteria, Joshua Spafford, Play, Repertory Philippines, Sarah Ruhl, Theater, Vibrator Play, Victorian era
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