An erotic, moving & sharply funny piece of storytelling in Aromas

Aromas 4
Andy Fraser in Aromas – photo by Tim Leyes

It was back to Alumnae Theatre last night, in the Studio this time for the world premiere of the Junes Company’s production of Aromas, written/directed by Andrew Faiz, and starring Andy Fraser. I saw this compelling one-person show when an earlier draft of the play was produced at Red Sandcastle Theatre in September 2014.

Aromas is a solo show that features an ensemble cast of characters, mainly Katalin and her alter-ego Chanel. Ice skater, dancer and party girl Katalin grows bored of her dream job performing with a Swan Lake touring company and stumbles upon the opportunity for a career change – and her working persona Chanel, a professional sex worker, is born.

Throughout her world travels and encounters with diverse people – some of whom have come from extremely harsh and horrific situations, including her Eastern European immigrant parents – Katalin finds herself able to see the world as it is while maintaining a sense of optimism and an ability to see beauty wherever she goes, and finding joy, connection and empathy in the people, flavours and scents she encounters. With the heart of an artist and the mind of a philosopher, not to mention a collection of readily available dialects and several languages, her work as Chanel goes beyond the mere exchange of sexual services for money. Sex is never just about sex. Chanel is a priest, a psychologist, a counsellor – not a girlfriend, but a girlfriend experience – with a strong commitment to being present physically, mentally and emotionally. And as Katalin struggles with her own sense of identity and longs for a story of her own, she finds that – far from being a means of avoiding herself and her world – Chanel is a way into herself. Into her own story.

Fraser’s performance is sexy, provocative, vivacious, deftly funny and wise. As we watch her character transitions – from Katalin, to her parents, to childhood friend Angela, to skating and dancing colleagues, to Chanel – the acting is truthful, engaging, immediate, present. Adult content aside, there is a lovely raw quality to Fraser’s work here in that it requires an incredible amount of emotional frankness and openness, not to mention guts.

With shouts to the design team: Richard Jones’ upbeat, cosmopolitan soundtrack; Brandon Kleiman’s sharp set (featuring a gorgeous backdrop wall of hotel room keys) and costumes designed for all Katalin’s/Chanel’s moods and styles; and Ed Rosing’s lighting design, which serves to move the scene, time and space transitions on an otherwise stationary space. And to the production’s intrepid stage manager Margot “Mom” Devlin, who’s running lights and sound, as well as the box office, for the run.

Aromas is an erotic, moving, sharply funny and thoughtful piece of storytelling – performed with heart, smarts and chutzpah by actor Andy Fraser.

Aromas continues at the Alumnae Studio until May 2. It’s a short run, so get your butts out there to see it. You can purchase advance tix through T.O. Tix; otherwise, it’s cash only at the door. You can also follow Aromas on Facebook.

You can check out production videos here. Here’s the promo vid:

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A heartbreaking, erotic & darkly funny journey of identity & intimacy in Aromas

Aromas 4
Andy Fraser – photo by Tim Leyes

“Sex is never just about sex, it’s about so much more.”

The Junes Company* production of Aromas, written and directed by Andrew Faiz, and starring Andy Fraser, opened at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night.

Shifting between time, space and – possibly – reality, Aromas is a one-woman show, featuring two main characters (ice dancer Katalin and professional escort Chanel) and two supporting characters (Katalin’s immigrant mother and former schoolmate Angela), among others. Katalin resides in the past, recounting stories of the people, places and parties she’s experienced on tour. A traumatic childhood encounter with Angela and an ecstatic first time seeing Swan Lake with her mother were defining moments for her, flipping on a switch inside, directing her future path. Chanel talks about her life in the present; straightforward and professionally detached, her body is a commodity and its commercial activity allows her the experience of physical intimacy without the underlying baggage that accompanies romantic relationships. A grown-up Angela, still dealing with ongoing anger management issues, sees Katalin’s life as exciting and glamourous – and can’t help but take credit for being a catalyst for it.

The question of identity arises: are Katalin and Chanel the same person? Is Chanel a fantasy for Katalin – or an evolution of spirit? Katalin wonders herself, who is she – is she merely a product of her experiences, set on certain paths by critical life events? One of the most touching – and telling – lines from the play comes from Chanel: “The Kama Sutra is a book of prayers you do with your body. Even a broken body wants to pray.” Here, this reference touches on the true physical intimacy – and spirituality – of being totally present, as well as making reference to a severely disabled young client – and possibly even regarding Katalin. In the end, we see that, while Katalin is damaged, she is not broken; drifting and in need of closure, but not without hope.

Fraser gives a stunning performance. As Katalin, she is vibrant, vulnerable, irreverently funny and flirtatiously sexy, seizing the day and acting on instinct and, in some cases, impulse. Chanel is wry-witted and sophisticated, approaching her work in a detached and professional manner – but not without sensuality, empathy and compassion. Or is that Katalin? The performance is compelling in its character and time shifts – and the storytelling is gut-wrenching and deeply poignant, with hints of edgy humour.

Brandon Kleiman’s set, with boxed rows of hotel room keys as a backdrop, provides an visually appealing and versatile playing area for this production, the story unfolding nowhere and anywhere, past and present; and his costuming both distinguishes and describes the characters. Ed Rosing’s lighting provided atmosphere for the action, most notably some warm, sensual ambers, as well as cues to the shifts in time and scene. Sound designer Richard Jones built a soundtrack around contemporary pop and snatches from Swan Lake, and original composition, from incidental to industrial synth, nicely underscoring the storytelling. The sense of smell, a highly evocative key to memory, and what it perceives – hence, the play’s title – while not physically present, is highlighted in the text.

All of this is held together and kept running by the production’s intrepid stage manager Margot “Mom” Devlin (a name that Alumnae Theatre Company fans will recognize from countless shows there), who was multitasking as sound and lighting operator, as well as box office for the opening performance.

Aromas is a heartbreaking, erotic and darkly funny journey of identity and intimacy, a moving piece of non-linear storytelling, compellingly told.

Aromas runs at Red Sandcastle until October 4. You can purchase advance tickets online or at the door (cash only). And you can follow Aromas on Facebook.

*The Junes Company is “a flexible collective of comprised of professional theatre/film/TV performers, creators and producers.” Past shows include A Damn Fine Nite of Actors, an evening of short plays written, directed and performed by the “Monday Niters.” The company will be mounting a production of The Lion in Winter at Alumnae Theatre next year, directed by David Ferry, and featuring Shawn Lawrence and Rosemary Dunsmore.