AISLE SAY, Toronto


Written by Miklos Laszlo
Adapted for Soulpepper by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins
Directed by Morris Panych

Reviewed by Robin Breon


Morris Panych is pretty much a force of nature in these parts. As a first rate theatre director and playwright he works like an agronomist, tilling and cultivating the local talent from one end of the country to the other, season after theatrical season. Not every crop blooms as one might hope it would (100 productions and counting) but the bounty is significant (two Governor General Awards along with numerous other accolades) and the current seasonal harvest of delight at Soulpepper, Panych's production of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo's 1937 play, Parfumerie, is just another example of how, when all the natural elements conspire as they should, beauty can prevail.


Although this production will have closed by the time Aisle Say readers see this review, let this be my early bid (along with several others already submitted) to ensure that Soulpepper revives the show next holiday season.


Most people will be familiar with the story of the beauty shop owner, Miklos Hammerschmidt (played here with just the right combination of authority and angst by Joeseph Ziegler) and its quirky covey of employees by way of its reinvention in two films (The Shop Around the Corner, You've Got Mail), one musical (She Loves Me) and one film musical adaptation (In the Good Old Summertime). What a treat then, to be able to return to the original play in a fine and very serviceable new rendition by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins that Soulpepper has appropriately mounted as a holiday offering.


And before I go any further, let me say that Parfumerie not only smells like a hit, it looks good too with an inspired art nouveau set by Ken MacDonald that is the finest realization of design and construction that I have yet to see in the unforgiving black box of a theatre that represents the mainstage of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. With no wing or fly space, MacDonald has worked a mini-miracle of his own.


The Soulpepper acting ensemble is at its best here and clearly portrays the marked difference in production values that can be achieved when a group of actors with the aspiration to become a repertory company pass the first decade mark. If one wanted to fault Soulpepper, it could be for not trying harder to build and advance a company that truly reflected the multiracial, multicultural composition that is the day to day reality of the city of Toronto.

Last year I received the Soulpepper brochure that pictured an impressive line-up of 37 actors. Not one was a person of color. Yes, it's true that the new youth initiatives always feature actors of color—but these do not play out in the year to year contracts that are offered to the major players.

Perhaps this could be artistic director Albert Schultz's new year's resolution.

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