‘In the Next Room or the vibrator play’ casts SBCC actor with pros

Blake+Benlan%2C+20%2C+and+a+second-semester+City+College+student%2C+will+play+the+role+of+Leo+Irving+in+the+Theatre+Group%E2%80%99s+production+of+%E2%80%98In+The+Next+Room+or+the+vibrator+play.%E2%80%99+Benlan+is+the+only+student+working+with+an+otherwise+all-professional+staff.

J.C. Corliss

Blake Benlan, 20, and a second-semester City College student, will play the role of Leo Irving in the Theatre Group’s production of ‘In The Next Room or the vibrator play.’ Benlan is the only student working with an otherwise all-professional staff.

MEGAN TONTI, Arts and Entertainment Editor

In the lobby of the Garvin Theatre a young man with a full wild beard sat at ease in black dress pants and vest with a button down shirt.

Blake Benlan, City College student and actor, earned his first role with the Theatre Group for the college’s production of “In the Next Room or the vibrator play.” The group does not cast just City College students, but from the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles areas as well.

“It’s a passion. It’s far more than a hobby,” Benlan said. “It’s what I want to do with myself. It’s how I want to make a living.”

Playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote the production. It is about the use of the vibrator to treat women, and sometimes men, for the medical condition that people used to call hysteria, playing with the ignorance of the Victorian age.

“I decided at a certain point that I was going to audition for the play because the character was in my age range,” Benlan said. “I have played a lot of foreigners in my day, especially Englishmen.”

Benlan, a Goleta native and Dos Pueblos High School alumnus, plays the role of Leo Irving, who is described as a theatrical artist and Englishman living a bohemian lifestyle.

“Before I discovered theatre, I devoted my time to drawing. I was once an artist, just like Leo,” Benlan said. “He and I are both very big, very flamboyant and very old fashioned.”

He will also participate in the 10-10-10 Student Screenwriting and Filmmaking competition as a writing finalist, at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. His short film, “Soul’d” will be shown at the Arlington Theater.

“I’ve been interested in screenwriting for a while naturally,” Benlan said. “This has always been right up my alley.”

Benlan started acting in the third grade at Brandon Elementary in Goleta. His first play was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” though acting didn’t stick for him at that point, he said. It wasn’t until he attended Goleta Valley Junior High that he realized he was cut out for a career in entertainment.

“At that point, I just had my mind on screenwriting, largely in film,” Benlan said. “Acting didn’t really occur to me, but given the proximity of theater to film I decided that in high school I would give the theater arts a try.”

One of the first actors casted in the play, Benlan outshined the 10 other men who auditioned for the part.

“There were three things that stood out,” Director Rick Mokler said. “One was his look, he looked great. Two, he really read great. Thirdly, he has that wonderful voice and it lends itself beautifully to the character and he’s got an excellent English accent.”

“He wants to learn,” Mokler said. “You give him something to do, he tries to do it, and then the next day, it’s there. You can see that he went home, and he worked on it. He delivers.”