In Praise of Odder Women

“But what if a woman WANTS to be a sex slave..?”

You know, I’m not sure I could have thought up a better way to ignore the Sochi Olympics (fun visitor fact: I have ZERO Olympic Spirit!) than to be sitting in a nice crowded theatre on the day of the opening ceremonies.  I know it did MY spirit a world of good, and not just because it was a terrific goddamn show.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…I usually yammer for a spell before telling you how much I liked a thing, don’t I?

Got to the Gladstone with classmate Kathryn, hot on the heels of the previous days THIS IS WAR premiere, to hobnob with yet another opening night crowd (oh, the glamour of my life, people, the GLAMOUR!).  Mostly I was just happy to see bargal Ketra back behind the wood, but also intrigued to see the latest from local Gladstone regulars Bear and Company, last seen visiting Ottawa parks this past summer (remember summer?!?) with their great cowboy adaptation of A COMEDY OF ERRORS.  This time around they went with a modern play about the past, Linda Griffiths’ AGE OF AROUSAL, a tale ‘wildly inspired’ George Gissing’s 1893 novel THE ODD WOMEN..  Set in the late 1800’s, the story centers around aging amazon Mary Barfoot (Eleanor Crowder), a rabble-rousing suffragette fresh out of a stint in prison and fighting off bad nightmares.  Together with her lover Rhoda (Lisa Jeans), she’s opened up a secretarial school for women, opting to try and gain women their independence through financial means.  It all seems to be going well enough, if a little tame for feisty Mary, until the arrival of three sisters into their midst.  Spinsters (not ‘old maids’, thank you very much) Alice and Virginia (Rachel Eugster and Margo MacDonald), two untrained ladies left adrift after the death of their Father, and watching over their pretty little thing of a younger sister, Monica (Anna Lewis).  They are brought in and entered into the school, despite their intimidation at the modern metallic machines that are the Remington typewriters.  Into this already volatile mix comes Mary’s cousin Everard (Tim Oberholzer), a former doctor trying to balance his intellectual respect for ‘new women’ with his obviously raging desire for, well, just about all of them.

“Oh, I’d like to pet HER pussycat…”

Everyone’s lives go a little soap opera-esque in short order, with characters switching partners, getting drunk, challenging their views, cross-dressing, and just generally pushing the Hell out of the turn-of-the-century envelope.  It’s an exciting and very funny look at the proto-feminist movement of that time, when they figured everything would be equal and settled by, say, 1915 at the latest.  So great to see a play with five vibrant and very different ladies rocking the stage, and make no mistake this is an ensemble to be reckoned with.  Eleanor Crowder’s Mary is regal and imposing, and Lisa Jeans’ Rhoda counters her with a vigorous intellectual fire that’s hard to resist.  I was mighty proud to see my recent voice teacher Rachel Eugster getting laughs out of the audience at will as nervous, wilting Alice.  And Margo MacDonald undergoes a splendid transformation in the course of the show, from almost madcap comic to, well, something entirely other (she looks positively faboo after her trip to Berlin, I will say).  And Anna Lewis charms effortlessly as Monica, alternately shrinking violet and roaring temptress.  I almost pity Tim Oberholzer on that stage…almost.

Age of Arousal2
Diana Fajrajsl’s direction is cool and fluid, reuniting her with Margo from their legendary Fringe show SHADOWS a few years back..  She makes good use of her stellar cast and killer dialogue, with able assist from lighting guru David Magladry and sweet costumes and accoutrement from Patrice Ann Forbes and Annie Lefebvre.  This a smooth, sexy show, both honouring the dawn of modern feminism as well as acknowledging what a paradigm-busting struggle it was for those on the frontlines. Gladstone’s two for two in 2014 (and Jayson McDonald’s UNDERBELLY is up next, which will make it a triple-play, guaranteed), and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Get on down and watch the ladies do their thing, folks, you’ll be glad you did.  Peace, love and osul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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