Age of Arousal
Review by Kelly J. Clark – Showbill.ca Writer
February 17, 2017
Theatre Inconnu’s Age of Arousal is a passionate cry for equality and freedom for Victorian suffragettes both in the streets and in the sheets.
Age of Arousal centers on the women’s suffrage movement in Victorian London and the lives of the women in a typist school for odd women. Mary, the owner of the school, is played with an even balance of power and the fragility of an ageing lioness by Fran Patterson.
Deidre Tipping plays Rhoda, her partner in both the school and the bedroom, a woman struggling with desires and dreams that pull her away from her lover. When Rhoda invites three women from her past to join the school events are set in motion that will lead to tragedy, heartache, and a revelation of the soul.
The cast is a gift. Tipping balances Rhoda’s plain demeanor with wanderlust for the erotic that yearns to explore outside of her lover’s touch. Mary fears dying alone, and the more she clings to Rhoda the more we suffer alongside them.
The three new students, Alice, Virginia and Monica, played respectively by Gloria Snider, Joy Lynn Anderson, and Ellen Law, are a bit too diverse in age to make believable sisters, but are each a delight. In particular, there is a raw charisma to Anderson’s performance that makes it impossible to turn away from her performance. Corin Wrigley mans the only male role in the cast with gusto as Everard, Mary’s nephew and odd-job gynecologist.
If a criticism must be made of this talented cast it is that the sexual tension and raw wanton desire does not quite reach the fevered pitch implied by the dialogue. In one scene in particular, Everard’s inner monologue reveals that he is stricken with an erection so priapic that it threatens to burst through his pants. Yet the delivery is too casual, like he spends all his days that profoundly rigid. While this is in no way a criticism of Wrigley’s ability, it is an example of the surprisingly low pitch of sexual desire. The production often feels like there’s a drought, but for some reason no one’s thirsty, if you follow.
The script calls for the cast to perform a dizzying number of explosive soliloquys, all of which are performed with breathless rapidity. However, as the play progresses a multitude of inner voice begin to emerge at once and the sheer number of characters venting repressed desires becomes cacophonous. While the presence of such repression is a profound statement en masse, in smaller numbers, such as duet, it simply turns into one actor speaking louder than the other.
Age of Arousal is a very large play for Theatre Inconnu’s diminutive stage, at two and a half hours, six cast members, and half a dozen locations. The production team makes it work though, under the meticulous direction of Wendy Merk.
The show proves itself technically as well, from Clayton Jevne’s lighting to the clever sound design and coy use of projected imagery that have become the Inconnu’s standard thanks to its resident sound designer, Kevin Stinson. Finally, Jai Donalson’s costume designs are a particularly delicious element of the play. The styles, colors and patterns – most notably Everard’s dandy duds – are vivid and wild, yet remain period appropriate. There is love and care in every achingly crafted thread.
The Bottom Line
Age of Arousal is more than worth seeing: it may even be the best thing to come out of Theatre Inconnu this year.