by Lynn on October 28, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Linda Griffiths
Inspired by The Odd Women by George Gissing
Directed by Jennifer Brewin
Lighting by Jennifer Lennon
Sound by Michael Rinaldi
Head of Wardrobe, Erin Frances Gerofsky
Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Marie Beath Badian
Leah Doz
Sam Kalilieh
Juno Rinaldi
Julie Stewart

A rather thin production of Linda Griffiths’ vibrant play about women’s emancipation and sex.

The Story. Mary Barfoot and Rhoda Nunn are independent women trying to help other women be independent. Barfoot and Nunn run a school to teach women to type and then go into the workforce to make their own living and be independent of anyone for their livelihood. Barfoot has also been campaigning as a suffragette for equality, going even so far to be jailed for her beliefs. Nunn has supported her in her endeavours. They are also lovers, or ‘odd women’ as the vernacular of the day would describe their relationship.

Rhoda Nunn meets Virginia and Alice Madden by accident in the street. She knew the sisters when they were growing up. Nunn recalls that the sisters (there is another younger sister, Monica) were upper class and always looked down on her because she was poor. Now the tables are turned. Their father has died and the sisters are now dependent on solicitors for their stipend. They had precious little inheritance. The two older sisters are in dire straights. Monica will not have the same problem. She works in a shop and because she is pretty she will marry. What her sisters don’t know is that first Monica will have her various flings with eager men. Sex is always throbbing away in Age of Arousal.

Rhoda takes the two older sisters in to live and study at the school. Mary goes along with it. Her biggest worry is that Rhoda will leave her for someone else. Virginia also has her moments of uncertainty. She wants to go to Berlin to live as a woman but dress as a man. Into this mix comes Everard Madden, Mary’s cousin. A man about town, rakish, charming, and seemingly on the hunt for a pliable, sexual woman. There is much talk about sexual politics, marriage, convention, ties that bind. The play is deep, philosophical, full of sexual politics regarding men, women, and various pairings thereof.

The Production. I wish I could say the production is deep, philosophical and delves into the various themes with vigour and conviction, but alas, I can’t. There is so much that seems unfinished about it. I don’t mind a bare-bones set and simple costumes. In this Factory season there does not seem to be any designer except for lighting and sound. The result is less naked and more chintzy and ill fitting if it’s a suit. That’s not a good thing if you are trying to do right by the intensions and focus on the play.

Director Jennifer Brewin has done fine work as artistic director of Theatre Columbus and its new name Common Boots Theatre. She is imaginative and creative in so many past productions, and especially for the annual Christmas show at the Brick Works. But her work on The Age of Arousal unfortunately looks pedestrian. Staging is matter-of-fact. Characters standing in a line talking to each other seems rather uninspiring and awkward.

The cast is accomplished but most seem to struggle with the ideas of the text. Exceptions are Aviva Amour-Ostroff as the flighty, pre-occupied Virginia Madden and Juno Rinaldi who is splendid as the giddy Alice Madden.

Comment. Factory Theatre has had a rocky time of it since the board and Ken Gass, the Factory’s founding, long-serving artistic director, had a public, acrimonious parting of the ways. The theatre has been trying to find its way again and get its footing. Press information describes Factory as a company with grit. The 2015-16 season is called the Naked Season in which six Canadian Classics will be re-imagined. Productions will be spare and stark of settings and costumes. The focus will be on the plays and their themes. The plays are a cross-section of cultures and arresting stories. Fair enough. But these stories have been done better elsewhere.

Age of Arousal is not being reimagined. It’s being produced in a production that seems rushed; in which actors have not delved deeply into their character and the complexity of the playwright’s themes have not been explored fully. This is a disappointment. I hope for better things with the next show, Banana Boys.

Produced by Factory Theatre

Opened: Oct. 22, 2015
Closes: Nov. 8, 2015.
Cast: 6; 1 man, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours.

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