Age of Arousal by Linda Griffiths

Dates and Venue 16 April – 9 May 2009 at 8pm (matinees on Wed & Sat at 2pm) | Granville Island Stage

Director Katrina Dunn Set Design Pam Johnson Lighting John Webber Costume Design Jenifer Darbellay Sound Design Chris Hind Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu

Reviewer John Jane

There is something quite special in seeing a good Canadian play; even if it is set in London and based on English novelist George Gissing’s curiously titled “The Odd Women.” "Odd” women were those middle-class spinsters who resisted mainstream society’s expectations of marriage, either by choice or lack of opportunity.

In Age of Arousal by Linda Griffiths, set in London prior to the turn of the (20th) century, we meet Rhoda Nunn (Laara Sadiq) and Mary Barfoot (Susan Hogan), two early feminists and “odd” women by choice. They set about imparting the art of pounding lettered keys to other women in order to gain some level of financial independence and who might otherwise have little opportunity of security.

Mary is a veteran suffragette who has chained herself to the iron railings on Downing Street once too often. Her younger partner, Rhoda is the quintessential “femme-libber” who would not be out of place in the current climate of women’s advanced state of emancipation.

Enter the Madden sisters, ranging in age from twenty to late middle-age, recruited to the school more out of compassion than from any expectancy of success. The eldest, Alice (Gwynyth Walsh), is the closest to being a conventional woman. She still has dreams of tending a garden and serving a husband. Virginia (Kerry Davidson) is considered odd in the usual sense. She muses about traveling to Berlin while finding cheer in a bottle of gin. She also indulges in the quirky (at that time) practice of cross-dressing. Monica (Jennifer Mawhinney), is their pretty younger sister with real marriage potential. But she has her own overtly sexual notions of freedom.

As the play’s only male actor, no one would blame Martin Happer if he had agreed to work for free. While he gets short shrift in terms of his character’s development, he nonetheless appears to enjoy his role of the hedonistic Everard Barfoot who shares sexual dalliances with both Monica and Rhoda.

Director Katrina Dunn maintains a perfect pace throughout. The play employs a technique (a gimmick, really) that has the characters making their private thoughts audible to the audience. This feature provides much of the play’s real satire; removes the invisible barrier between the performer and the audience and allows the actors the opportunity to demonstrate their range.

This is a true ensemble piece with the five strong female cast members sharing equal responsibility. All the same, the exotic Laara Sadiq’s character Rhoda is certainly the most interesting. She struggles to deal with her physical attraction to a man whom she cannot totally commit to without diminishing her capacity of leader and role-model to other women.

Ms Sadiq also plays an essential part in the show’s most memorable moments. In one such scene Mary and Rhoda demonstrate their virtuoso skills at the vintage RemingtonTM typewriters while blindfolded. She also articulates arguably the play’s most profound, though hardly prophetic line: "In 30 years, it will all be accomplished."

Jennifer Darbellay’s clothing shows off the elegance of pre-feminist dress when placed in proximity to Virginia’s frumpy, masculine attire.

When entering and leaving the theatre from the rear, one is taken in by the giant letter keys that form Pam Johnson’s highly original set. It establishes the classic typewriter as the show’s constant motif. Women (and men) have come a long way!

© 2009 John Jane