Hanley Smith plays Catherine Givings in In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
This will be my husband William’s and my third time performing at Gulfshore Playhouse — following wonderful experiences in The Importance of Being Earnest (2013) and last season’s Leading Ladies — and we could not be more thrilled to return. Indeed, we looked forward to coming here for months. “Just hang on until Naples,” we would say to each other during times apart or mired in miserable weather. “Just wait until we are with our Gulfshore family.” And it has indeed felt a bit like a homecoming: hugging old buddies from the crew and staff that first day of rehearsal; enthusing with Kristen and Jeff about the plans for Gulfshore Playhouse’s future; showing the newbies the ropes; watching the sun set over the water and finishing the night with some cheesy crab dip at Pinchers. There is such a culture of warmth and community that the leadership has cultivated here. Everyone embraces the mission, takes pride and joy in their work, and opens the circle to allow all of us invading artists in. In this transient profession of being a “guest” performer everywhere we go, it is a gift to feel we are an important part of a larger community, that this theater can be a home away from home where we feel safe to take risks and challenged to bring in our best selves. Gulfshore Playhouse exemplifies the idea that the stronger the foundation, the more elevated something can be.
And speaking of gifts, it just so happens that In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play is one of my favorite plays of all time. To perform in it with my husband, under the guidance of people we so trust and admire, is a real joy. Rehearsals have been filled to the brim with belly-busting laughter, fascinating conversation and giant tugs on our hearts. This is a very smart, funny and talented bunch (see photo for empirical proof), which makes every day deliciously fulfilling. And while this play explores a number of important themes — the desire to be truly seen, the absurdity of cultural mores, female agency, motherhood, sexual awakening, friendship, loss, technology vs. humanity, light vs. dark — I think at its core, this is a play about people wanting to turn their house into a home, just like the Burt Bacharach song. And I mean that in every possible meaning of the phrase. A house can be a living space, but it can also be our bodies, our hearts, our relationships. So many of these characters are bumbling around in their own worlds —often in hilarious ways — trying to find themselves and each other. And isn’t that the human experience? We want to see and be seen. We want to free and be freed. We want to love and be loved. And we are a great, big bunch of goofballs.
I find it beautifully apropos that we should be putting on this play of curiosity, growth, risk, and love at a time when Gulfshore Playhouse is beginning its next big adventure. What an exciting time! The Norris Center has been a massively appreciated house — for deep, darn sure — but something this special deserves its own home. A place where we can plant our bodies and hearts and relationships and allow them to flourish. A legacy that can be passed down lovingly to future generations. I know it will take a lot of time and hard work, but I am positively jubilant for this theater and all of her humans. They have meant so much to me and my husband over the years. We thank you for the memories of yore and those still to come, and we hope you all enjoy the show!