Kitchissippi residents, Margo McDonald and Rachel Eugster, take lead roles in playwright Linda Griffith’s Age of Arousal, set in Victorian London in 1885 and produced by Ottawa-based theatre collective, Bear & Co. Playing until February 22 at The Gladstone, Age of Arousal captures the emotional turmoil of repressed desires that characterized the end of the Victorian era.
Age of Arousal is McDonald and Eugster’s “first professional collaboration.”
“I love working with Margo,” says Eugster.
Both women began their careers at a young age. McDonald was “first on stage in kindergarten.”
“I realized that’s what I needed to do,” says McDonald after having seen her first play at age 5, adding that she “dabbled in other things, but always came back to theatre.”
Eugster wears several hats. She is an accomplished writer and editor, singer, actor and music director. As part of the Dragon Tea Trio, formed last year with Joan Harrison on cello and Andrew Mah on guitar, Eugster will be performing in a series of house concerts in early March. The trio performs “a range of genres, from folk, jazz, classical and Brazilean Bach,” says Eugster. “We are all classically trained,” she adds. The Pocket Mommy, Eugster’s first picture book, was inspired by the day she dropped her son off at kindergarten and he announced that he wished she was tiny enough to keep in his pocket all day.
In 2012, Margo McDonald won the Rideau prize for outstanding female performance in Fly Me to the Moon (GCTC). McDonald co-founded A Company of Fools in 1990 appearing in many of their productions over the years, and has just formed her own company, Parry Riposte Productions – a fencing term – “I spent 20 years fighting with swords,” she says, “but the number of times I’ve had to use it on stage, I can count on one hand.” She is currently working on “a biographical piece about a 17th century woman who fenced and was an opera singer and has been virtually forgotten.” In March, McDonald will be producing her own play – “it’s about 2 pirates trapped in a Crow’s nest. They can’t come down until they resolve their differences.” The play has no script and every night will be different – determined by the audience.
McDonald and Eugster play sisters in Age of Arousal. “Eugster plays the older sister and I play the middle sister,” says McDonald. “I have many sisters myself. Our characters and dialogue are comedic. It takes a shift in the second half. It’s a huge play – mentally, emotionally and even in the sheer length of the play – two hours.” adds McDonald. “The dialogue written for us is wonderful. It’s an ensemble piece. All six of us are on with just short breaks. It is so cleverly written – like a piece of music,” says McDonald adding that “it’s been a great journey of discovery.”
“[The author] has a few devices she uses to great effect. The first is overlapping dialogue which sometimes happens with three or four or five of us at the same time,” says McDonald. “We are so used to hearing each word. It’s tricky to learn how to do that, but [in the end] the audience is hearing what it should hear,” she adds. “The other device is thought-speak – which allows the audience to hear the truth behind the Victorian masks we wear. That’s the way people are today. We don’t always say everything we think.”
Living a few blocks from each other in Hintonburg, McDonald and Eugster knew each other vaguely as colleagues in the community. Eugster is a founding member of Bear & Co. and has appeared in Ottawa, in The Walk (Moon Dog Productions), in Momma’s Boy at the 2011 Fringe Festival, in the Gladstone’s Farndale Christmas Carol, and as soprano soloist with various choirs and orchestras. She served as music director for Salamander Shakespeare Co. and GNAG Theatre, and was also an artist-in-residence at Parkdale United Church.