A caged bird is one of the first images in “The Awakening,” currently on stage at The Rogue Theatre.
It’s an apt image: In the play, based on Kate Chopin’s 19th century novella and adapted by Christopher Johnson for the stage, women are trapped in marriages and in roles that serve men. It was a time when suppression of female emotions was the expected.
That was the 19th century world that Chopin wrote about and railed against. Her novella is considered a pioneer in feminist literature because she gave voice to women’s desires, whether it was sex, the longing for a creative life, or the deep desire to escape the oppressive way women were treated (OK, and are still treated in many ways).
The story is about Edna, the mother of two trapped in a passionless marriage. She longs for solitude, freedom of speech and of movement, and to freely express who she is and what she desires. She begins to find those in music, her art and her love for Robert, a young man who frolics on the same summer island Edna and her family stay.
Also on this island are women who are quite happy in their traditional roles — or seem to be. And then there is Mademoiselle Reisz, an elderly woman who is a musician, unmarried, childless and happy. She serves as a catalyst for Edna’s awakening and subsequent rebellion.
Johnson’s adaptation took chunks out of the original story without ever losing the heart of the tale. But in trimming it down, he also lost much of the nuance. You won’t lose your way if you’ve never read the novella, but if you have, you’ll get the full power of the tale.
This cast, thoughtfully directed by Johnson, is up to The Rogue’s high standards.
Bryn Booth’s Edna had a fierce determination that broke through her fragility. Hunter Hnat as her young friend and hopefully lover, Robert, was a serious flirt with high moral standards and a deep conscience, a source of confusion and frustration to Edna.
The whole cast stood out, especially Carley Elizabeth Preston as Adele, who speaks her mind and embraces her sexuality but still submits to her husband without question.
Cynthia Meier was just right as Mlle. Reisz, the cranky and wise inspiration to Edna. New to The Rogue stage is Teri Lee Thomas, who powerfully played the role of Madame Lebrun, Robert’s mother. She is impressively talented — let’s hope we see more of her on Tucson stages.
Although all the actors brought distinction to their parts and fleshed out the story, they were hindered by the presentational style of the play and the fact that the bulk of it was narrated. While this moved the story line forward crisply, it made it difficult for the performers to fully inhabit their characters. Consequently, there is a sense of detachment between the audience and the characters.
Nevertheless, And it’s worth being reminded that not much has changed when it comes to the oppression of women. Although we have more freedoms than 19th century women, many are still caged birds longing to break free.