Last Saturday night, a friend and I attended a great production of Linda Griffiths' hilarious and provocative, THE AGE OF AROUSAL at the Factory Theatre. It is undoubtedly the strongest production to have graced the Factory main stage in a number of years.
In the aftermath of the First World War, England has 400,000 more women than men. That was a whole lot of of impecunious spinsters and widows. Women had won the right to vote, and were joining the workforce in large numbers, mostly in some form of domestic service, or retail. Unless you'd been left an inheritance, as a single woman you were facing a life of genteel - and sometimes not so genteel - poverty.
Enter Mary Barfoot (Julie Stewart): suffragette, lesbian, intellectual, heiress, and educator. Barfoot, a formidable woman of great intellectual and sexual power hovers on the cusp of losing her beauty. Barfoot knows most women don't inherit and many won't - or don't want to marry a pay cheque. She is determined to improve women's lot by securing them financial independence through vocational training.
Barfoot and her much younger lover/business partner Rhonda Nunn (Marie Beath Badian) run a secretarial college for women. Armed with a trio of terrifying looking Remington typewriters, the couple undertakes the emancipation of a hapless trio of sisters: the Maddens.
Griffiths' play was loosely based on an 1893 novel called THE ODD WOMEN and the Maddens are decidedly an odd lot. Alice (Juno Rinaldi) is a high-strung neurotic, Virginia (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), a cross-dressing dipsomaniac and Monica (Leah Doz), a sexually voracious shop girl, who is way too pretty for her own good. When Barfoot's wealthy, handsome, nice guy male doctor/dilettante cousin, Everard (Sam Kalilieh) returns from abroad, putting a fox in this hen house, things get very complicated indeed.
Griffiths' brilliant script may be set 100 years ago, but it still feels very fresh and current in its exploration of feminism, sexuality, gender politics, aging, money, power, and loneliness.
The cast uniformly executes wonderful physical and vocal character work. This is a very solid ensemble. Brewin directs a smart, brisk-paced production that lets Griffiths' intellectually and emotionally complex, and delightfully mad script really shine.
The actors are required to articulate both their outside and inside voices, which leads to many moments of hilarity, and a few of gut-wrenching and painful truth.
Two things about the production made me feel sad. One, was sitting and watching the wonderful play unfold and again, mourning the loss of Linda Griffiths last year. She was a unique voice in Canadian theatre: intellectually brilliant, and fearlessly intense. She will never write another play again. What a tragic loss!
The other thing that saddened me was the embarrassing lack of production values on stage: set, lighting, and costumes. No designers were credited, although a wardrobe coordinator was hired. My heart goes out to her. The show looks like someone went to Goodwill, Ardene's, and the Kind Exchange with about a hundred bucks.
I don't expect to see stretch polyester on an actress in a period play on the stage of a major theatre. Leggings? Tank tops? Seriously? Everard, a wealthy, well-traveled womanizer is in a suit that doesn't fit.
With the exception of the typewriters, the visual elements of the production were below the standard of an underfunded community theatre. A performance this good deserves an equally fine standard of production design. This isn't naked theatre: it's just a pound-foolish decision not to employ a design team.
THE AGE OF AROUSAL continues at the Factory Theatre until November 8th from Tuesday -Saturday at 8:00 with pay-what-you-can matinee performances at 2:00 pm on Sunday afternoons. Call (416) 504 9971 or go to www.factorytheatre.ca