Review: Age of Arousal

Who would have thought that the lowly typewriter would have played such a pivotal role in the quest for women’s rights? If you are playwright Linda Griffiths you do and through her Age of Arousal, on stage now at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage, she explores the bonds of loyalty and how the Remington might have helped in the quest for equality.

Set in London in 1885, Mary Barfoot (Susan Hogan) and Rhoda Nunn (Laara Sadiq) run a business school for women. Mary, a former suffragette, sees the school as another stepping stone towards women’s equality by helping those women who find themselves unable to support themselves financially once the men in their lives are no longer around to provide. Rhoda, who also happens to be Mary’s lover, meanwhile becomes restless and begins questioning her status in both her relationship with Mary and her misandry.

After a chance “bump” with the torpid Virginia Madden (Kerry Davidson), and despite her questioning, invites Virginia and her two sisters to the study at the school. The oldest sister, Alice (Gwynyth Walsh) bemoans her menopause while the younger Monica (Jennifer Mawhinney) delights in her sexual awakenings including her desires for Mary’s cousin Everard (Martin Happer). And while at first Everard is smitten by Monica, it is Rhoda that ultimately becomes Everard’s object of desire.

Laara Sadiq and Susan Hogan in Age of Arousal. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Laara Sadiq and Susan Hogan in Age of Arousal. Photo by Emily Cooper.

It is difficult to single out any one of the fine actors here although Walsh’s Alice, with her simultaneous loathing and celebration of the physical change she is experiencing as she ages, and Hogan’s Mary, equally steadfast in her convictions and in her vulnerability, rang most true for me.

At one point Everard states that “men are not afraid of women, just women in groups” but as the sole male in a cast of strong women, Happer certainly does not take a backseat and skillfully gives us an Everard that we can simultaneously abhor and admire.

Much like a musical, Griffiths has also written a number of “show stoppers” into her play including the Madden sister’s visit to a rather sumptuous buffet at the school, Mary and Rhoda’s blindfolded “performance” on the Remingtons and the fainting scene at the end of first act.

Few can argue that Playwright Griffiths has a way with words and liberally uses what she calls “thought speak” throughout the play where the characters are permitted to reveal their true feelings in contrast to what they are actually saying at the time. Unfortunately though, the characters are also permitted to over-speak each other and when coupled with Griffiths’ rather formal language and the actor’s accents, it does become a bit muddled at times.

Given the rather large number of scenes and locations, each quite cleverly beginning with a typewritten surtitle on the back scrim, Director Katrina Dunn and her Set Designer, Pam Johnson have transformed the stage itself into a Remington typewriter. Using the various tiers of the typewriter keyboard allows the scenes to move quickly from one locale to another without losing the momentum a more traditional staging might have caused.

Age of Arousal continues at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through May 9th. Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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