AGE OF AROUSAL by Linda Griffiths, directed by Maja Ardal (Nightwood/Factory). At Factory (125 Bathurst). To December 16. Pwyc-$36. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNN
Linda Griffiths's powerful, poetic Age Of Arousal cuts through the knots of male/female relationships while underscoring the humanity that's lost when there is any power hierarchy.
Based on George Gissing 's Victorian novel The Odd Women, the piece looks at the social, economic and sexual attempts the female characters make to establish their own power, though sometimes at the expense of other women in their lives.
Ex-suffragist Mary ( Clare Coulter ) runs a secretarial school with her lover, Rhoda ( Sarah Dodd ); the latter brings the downtrodden Madden sisters ( Maggie Huculak , Ellen-Ray Hennessy and Gemma James-Smith ), girlhood friends, into the partners' circle, setting up new jealousies and reviving old ones.
When we meet them, they are all, to use Rhoda's term, odd women - unmarried females not tied by the bonds of marriage or family, and therefore able to work to effect societal change.
The fireworks increase with the appearance of Everard ( Dylan Smith ), drawn to two of the women in his cousin Mary's household. An unusual man who rejects the patriarchal role and seeks to partner a New Woman, he still causes chaos in this estrogen-centred universe.
Part of the show's pleasure is the effervescent dialogue, which includes what the playwright dubs thought speak, a bubbling over of internal thoughts that sometimes emphasize, sometimes contradict, the "spoken" exchanges. What we see and hear seems, at times, like the trios and quintets of a passionately erotic opera.
Under director Maja Ardal , the cast is mostly strong, with Coulter and Dodd sensual and initially playful as adamant feminists. Dodd has the work's most intricate subtext, and she teases it out marvellously.
Huculak's spinster Alice is a Dickensian figure who moves from sheltered shyness to a zestful acceptance of life, while Hennessy gives the middle sib, Virginia, a sexual ambiguity and a later seriousness.
James-Smith offers a radiant performance as young Monica, who realizes that sexual freedom is as much a part of a woman's life as political liberty.
The show has some problems: the rhythms of the first act are sometimes slack; Everard isn't as rich a character as he might be; the first act's laughs are sometimes frivolous. Even so, you'll want a second viewing to catch all of Griffiths's sparkling ideas, cased in such evocative language.