In the Next Room is set in the 1880s, outside of New York City, but what would its characters be doing if they were able to time travel forward, to late 2009? This is one of the questions I put to Maria Dizzia, who plays Mrs. Daldry, backstage before a matinee this week.
"I imagine her in the future all the time," Dizzia said. "I think she would be single, not just because she had an unsatisfying marriage in the past, but because she's not completely 'done.' She needs to learn more about herself before she marries again."
Would she work? "Oh, yes," the actress replied. "She would need lots and lots of work. I imagine her as a librarian. She reads. And she likes to organize things." Dizzia said she also imagines Mrs. Daldry as a composer. "She needs to find an artistic outlet to release her sense of repression. And we know from her piano scenes in the play that she's musical."
Dizzia, who grew up in Cranford, New Jersey, and did her graduate theater training at the University of California/San Diego, is the only cast member from Next Room's premiere in Berkeley to regularly play a lead role in the LCT production. (Paul Niebanck, who portrayed Dr. Givings in Berkeley, understudies that role on Broadway.) How has Dizzia's thinking about Mrs. Daldry evolved since then? "I've become more aware of the fact that she is an ebullient person. I better understand where she lives, or would like to: in a more sensual, celebratory place. Her circumstances have damped that out of her. Dr. Givings' therapy starts to bring her to life."
Mrs. Daldry's medical treatments, with the vibrator and manual massage, require Dizzia to simulate orgasms. What was the challenge there? "The orgasms are an important part of who she is in the play," the actress replied. "You learn so much in those doctor scenes. But Sarah [Ruhl] has made sure those moments don't become too overwhelming. They are always part of a larger, more intricate scene."
Most of Dizzia's professional life has been in contemporary work. The last time she wore a corset was in college, where she appeared in The Way of the World and The Importance of Being Earnest.
One of her most formative experiences with a classic came even earlier. "I was an eighth grader. My parents would bring us into New York to see theater, ballet, and opera, and one day I was taken to see Lincoln Center Theater's production of Our Town, starring Spalding Gray. I can't tell you how moved I was by that. My mother was very affected, too, though for different reasons since she was experiencing Our Town at a different moment in her life. I'm happy now to be able to do something at the theater that gave me that experience."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.