by Lynn on December 17, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two productions were reviewed on Friday, December 16, 2011 on CIUT 89.5 FM: PARFUMERIE at the Young Centre For the Performing Arts until Dec. 24, and THE STORY at the Evergreen Brick Works until Dec. 31.

(DAMON Scheffer)

1) Good Friday morning. It’s time to find out what our Theatre Critic, and Passionate Playgoer, Lynn Slotkin is up to.

Hello Lynn

What are you going to tell us about today?


It’s the holidays and things tend to wind down, theatre-wise. But I have two shows that are perfect for the holidays.

First, PARFUMERIE is a delicious confection, that is sweet with a bit of tart.

And then THE STORY, which is the Christmas Story, about Mary, Joseph, three wise men who are lost. But there is a twist.


2) Ok, I’m sure we’ll get to the twist. But let’s start with PARFUMERIE.


It was written in 1937 by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. It was adapted in 2009 for Soulpepper Theatre Company by Canadians Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins. Both have done work before for Soulpepper, Pettle as a writer and Robins as an actress. They still keep the old-world charm of the story but with a modern sense of humour.

It takes place in a perfume shop around Christmas time. There is a staff of many and various characters, two of whom bicker and complain about each other incessantly.

George Asztalos is a clerk in the store and is efficient but a bit high strung and certainly when another clerk, Rosanna (Rosie) Balaz, is involved. She bugs George and George bugs her. Try as they might to be polite, they just can’t stand each other.

George lives alone. Rosie lives with her mother. But both have secret loves that they know only through letters. Each has had their secret pen-pal for more than a year to whom they write of their innermost yearnings, thoughts and dreams even though they have not told their secret love their names.

And yes, unbeknownst to George and Rosie, they are in fact writing each to other. And if this sounds like the films THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET or YOU’VE GOT MAIL then you now know the source of these wonderful films. The play has spawned three adaptations and one Broadway musical.


3) Who are some of the other characters in the play?


There is a clerk who flirts with any woman he sees when he’s not borrowing money from her. There is the sad owner Mr. Hammerschmidt who believes his wife is cheating on him with one of his staff. There is a delivery boy, devoted to Mr. Hammerschmidt but yearns to be a clerk.

They all have their secrets and longings but at its basic level, it’s about decent people trying to get by and do well by each other.

As I said, it’s a delicious confection that is a mix of sweet and tart. There is sadness, disappointment but also a generosity of spirit, a camaraderie a gentleness and yet great humour that is both the doing of the script and the terrific production, thanks to director Morris Panych and his cast and creative people.


4) Why do you think the production is terrific?


Because the director Morris Panych and his cast and creative team serve the spirit, heart and humour of the play. It’s directed with warm-hearted impishness by Morris Panych. Panych has a zany, but light touch with his direction. At times he has clerks and shop staff rushing around to serve customers, jumping over furniture, and it makes it all look like reindeer hopping or even gazelles just leaping in air.

There are so many wonderfully funny, impish touches—the way the whole store reacts to a departing customer; the body language and funny business of the womanizing clerk; even the look of the set is funny.


5) How so?


It’s designed by Ken MacDonald and with its pastel colours, curlicues and ornate details of the inside of the shop, it looks like an exquisite chocolate box. Or at least that the whole thing is made of marzipan. In any case the set made me smile and drool.

The acting company is supremely gifted. As George, Oliver Dennis can give a look that is confused, conflicted, and morally tough all at the same time. He has a gentleness but also a firm resolve and he has a way with a joke or a humourous thought that is unerring and dear.

As Rosie, Patricia Fagan is both steely in her resolve as well as emotionally fragile. She can stand up to George when she thinks he’s being unfair but dissolve in tears when she is wounded.

As Mr. Hammerschmidt, Joseph Ziegler has that world weary look of a man who is ground down by doubt and regret when he thinks his wife is cheating on him with one of his clerks. The body language slumps—that says it all. The voice is deliberately weak and wobbly. Hammerschmidt seems distracted and he is. This is a lovely performance, as are they all.

PARFUMERIE is a play and a production that is perfect for the holidays and makes a holiday of the rest of the time.


6) Ok moving along. You said that THE STORY is about the Christmas Story but with a twist. Explain.


It’s written by Martha Ross for Theatre Columbus, a theatre company of which she was co-artistic director for about 25 years before the reins were turned over to Jennifer Brewin who now runs the company and directs this show.

Ross has written the basic story we all know: pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph are told she will give birth to a baby who will change the world. There is the angel Gabriel whose hat glows in the dark who drops by occasionally to tell us and Mary what will happen. Three wise men are searching for a miracle star in the sky but have lost their way.

So we know the story.

There are a lot of contemporary references and a gentle, almost goofy humour to it. All that is rather sweet. The twist is that the whole show takes place in and around the buildings of the Everygreen Brickworks on Bayview Avenue, but mostly outside in the fields around the site. The effect is truly magical.


7) How so?

Well it’s dark of course, but Glenn Davidson has fashioned lighting that sets off the buildings that are more than 100 years old. It’s both eerie and evocative. To see lights in the distant field, or to see a glowing orb in the distance bobbing up and down as it approaches us and then see that it is Angel Gabriel wearing a round hat (halo) that is illuminate, is just magic.

The set pieces by Catherine Hahn in the buildings and in the fields, are simple but effective. And it’s directed by Jennifer Brewin that is hugely impressive for its wit, efficiency and imagination.

We follow a Sheppard who holds a lamp. She takes us to each scene in the field or in the buildings. The distances are short but we cover 1km over the hour length of the show. As we go from scene to scene we pass a choir that stands in the field singing hymns. That is magical.

The performances are earnest and sweet. Mary is played by Haley McGee, an actress to watch. She is forthright, has common sense and a whimsy that is delightful. As Joseph, Richard Lee is a sweet innocent and very devoted to Mary.

The whole cast is wonderful. As is the whole experience. I loved it.


8. What if it rains?


Then the whole thing is done indoors. It had been raining earlier in the day yesterday when I saw it, so the fields were wet and muddy in places. But we are told to dress warmly, wear proper shoes etc. They sell hot chocolate with marshmallows! And there were lots and lots of kids. This is a wonderful show for kids and adults who know some kids. Kids are fearless—the dark doesn’t scare them.

And I’d never been to the brickworks. What an incredible place. And a perfect place for this show.


8) We’re coming up to the end of the year. What are you looking forward to in the New Year?


I’m looking forward to the Next Stage Festival. Kind of a Fringe Festival only in the winter. That’s at Factory Theatre in early January.

THE PENELOPEAD, by Margaret Atwood, done by Nightwood Theatre, at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, opening January 12.

It’s the story of Penelope as she waits for her husband Odysseus to come back from the war and he’s taking a long time, and she’s bothered by lots and lots of suitors. And WAR HORSE at the Princess of Wales Theatre. This is based on the wonderful book by Michael Morpurgo. About a boy in England who enlists in WWI to go to France to find his horse and bring him home. The horse was sold to the cavalry to fight in France. The boy wants him back.

It has life sized puppets of the horses that are astonishing. If you see only one show all year, this should be it.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer.

You can read Lynn’s blog at

PARFUMERIE plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Dec. 24. Tickets: 416-866-8666

THE STORY plays at the Evergreen Brick Works until Dec. 31. Tickets: 416-504-0019

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