*This post has been updated on Oct. 25.
Factory Theatre seems to have swept the script’s grit under a Victorian rug before opening their new Naked Season with Age of Arousal.
Directed by Jennifer Brewin and written by the late Linda Griffiths, the play is loosely based on The Odd Women, an 1893 English novel written by George Gissing.
The play tells the story of Mary Barfoot (Julie Stewart), an ex-militant suffragette who runs a school for secretaries, along with her lover and business partner, Rhoda Nunn (Marie Beath Badian). Much to the dismay of Rhoda, Mary becomes adamant on accepting the Maddens (Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Leah Doz and Juno Rinaldi) into their school – three sisters who have lived their whole lives under their father’s patronizing control. All five women are undergoing many challenges already, but when Mary’s cousin Everard (Sam Kalilieh) decides to visit the school more frequently, he begins setting off more confusion and questions for the women, especially for the enamoured Rhoda Nunn. Together, the women straddle a fine line between being sufficient without men and succumbing to their most carnal, human desires.
The script, as a separate entity, is a seemingly effective choice to open Factory’s fall season. It does not only have feminism at its core, but also a burning desire for change, and what better time to stage a political, Canadian play about change than right now?
Factory’s Naked Season is described by artistic director Nina Lee Aquino as being “a series of pure theatrical encounters between the audience, the actor, the text, and the empty space that we all temporarily share.”
This production of Age of Arousal presents a classic Canadian play at its bare minimum, both aesthetically and intrinsically, but this particular execution does not necessarily do the script justice.
The minimalistic lighting and set designs are supposed to make room for us to see the deeper meaning behind the plays of this season -- to see what is essential at the core of each play, without adding all the trimmings.
To me, being 'naked' should evoke some sense of raw vulnerability. There should be a reason for the bareness. We should be feeling a connection, but unfortunately, that connection is not quite present here. The script's power feels somewhat diminished.
As a revolutionary story that encompasses the history of the 1800s, this piece definitely has its moments of humanness, humour and honesty that are done right. However, for a contemporary audience who continues to experience much political, social and cultural change in our diverse city, I don’t feel like this production feeds their souls. The play is not ‘naked’ in a sense that it induces passionate feeling or makes us think. Rather, it is a little empty, and it leaves us searching for and wanting more.
We know to some extent that these radical perspectives and characters existed in the past and, in certain ways, continue to exist today, but this show does not demonstrate that for me. The actors, while talented, never manage to make me care enough about the characters that they portray, or reflect on the meaning behind the play and its relation to our current state of flux.
Age of Arousal is playing at Factory Theatre until Nov. 8. For more information visit www.factorytheatre.ca.