Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: (Ottawa) Age of Arousal

Seduction of Heart and Mind
by Sonia Blanchette

Linda Griffiths' Age of Arousal begins with Rhoda Nunn (Lisa Jeans) brushing Mary's hair. Mary Barfoot (Eleanor Crowder) has just had a terrible nightmare and shares some of the ordeals she endured as a radical militant in women's movements. They operate a female-only school teaching secretarial skills but it is made clear from the start that far more awaits when the Madden sisters are introduced. There is a level of apprehension, bewilderment and maybe even a glimpse of curious excitement when Virginia (Margo MacDonald), Alice (Rachel Eugster) and Monica (Anna Lewis) are tempted with promises of independence and self-sufficiency. Mary is a stern and stubborn woman who will have it no other way, yet you can definitely detect that Rhoda is the pearl in her eyes and a profound tenderness exists there.

When three Remington typewriters are unveiled, they are extremely effective on the set, on the verge of intimidating. Their shiny cold steel and presence alone emote an almost futuristic quality. They make a particular impression on the sisters, more so on Alice who soon discovers how liberating and invigorating the keystrokes will become... almost to ecstatic abandon. Has a sense of purpose and true happiness finally engulfed her? And possibly the others?   

I was especially enamoured and admittedly feverishly bothered by Everard Barfoot (Tim Oberholzer) who comes off as debonair and cavalier at the onset. He is a 19th century bad boy. Well travelled and educated, he exudes confidence, arrogance and a healthy measure of sexual prowess. He is oftentimes required to rein in his primal urges in the presence of women. When cousin Mary invites him to visit the school, he meets Rhoda and a connection is imminent. He is deeply enchanted by her 'intelligent unhappiness' and a non-traditional relationship flourishes. The suggestion and definition of a 'free union' will be exposed and subsequently revealed.  

Playwright Linda Griffiths' vision shows us through various trials and tribulations the women face a plethora of emotional obstacles. Like most, they have all at one point or another questioned their values and beliefs and what ultimately defines and burdens them. 

The appearance of a sudden last minute character brings a much needed reality of unity and vulnerability and a deep sense that past conflicts are momentarily forgiven, if not forgotten. There was a true feeling of peace that gripped us all - characters and audience alike. 

Age of Arousal isn't really about women finally giving a voice to their silenced erotic desire or sexual shortcomings, but rather about making freedom of expression, independence, gender equality and/or sexual preference, an acceptable and a very much needed social requirement. 

As a footnote, the overlaps of dialogue, movement and inner reflection make it somewhat tricky to fully capture the essence and nuances of each and every one of these characters. Any theatre enthusiast would benefit from and equally enjoy seeing this play again. 

Feb 7 - 22

Run time: approximately 120 minutes with one intermission

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