Aromas explores the intersections between sexuality and spirituality on stage in Toronto
Aromas, currently onstage at the Alumnae Theatre, tells the life story of Katalin. Traumatized by a brutal beating as an adolescent, she later grows to realize her dream of being a professional skater in the ice dancing version of Swan Lake.
It’s also the story of Katalin’s alter ego Chanel, a sex worker in exotic dance and escorting who finds spirituality in sexuality.
While the show refreshingly refrains from passing moral judgement on sex work, Katalin/Chanel is not an empowered woman who has made confident, conscious life choices. Instead, she vaguely wanders into the profession when an opportunity arises, after she’s become bored of skating. She’s unsure of what she wants in life, and so afraid of emotional intimacy that she hides her confusion and fear behind personas—first Odette and the other characters in Swan Lake, and then Chanel.
However, during her sex work career, she forges strong bonds with three other women: two fellow dancers, and a mother who hires her to attend to the desires of a son with severe muscular dystrophy. She finds spiritual satisfaction in her sexual connection to her clients, particularly the physically disabled young man. That part of the play was the most emotionally powerful for my companion and I.
The show skips backward and forward in time, covering her physical abuse in the high school locker room, three versions of her mother and father’s engagement story, the parties and casual flings of life as a travelling ice dancer, a job in a Japanese strip club, preparing to receive clients in her boudoir, and finally an encounter as a middle-aged woman with her former teenage bully. These chronological switches create juxtapositions that reveal elements of Katalin’s psychological makeup that she herself is unaware of. They were also useful for creating dramatic tension, but that function was too often compromised by sluggish transitional lighting cues.
Kudos to playwright Andrew Faiz for creating a character whose career is not only condemned by too much of society, but–as a willing sex worker who enjoys her job–is generally erased entirely from social and political discourse. I do wonder if some of the sources of Katalin’s hangups—for example, that she is obsessed with emotional safety, which prevents her from falling in love because she was the product of a loveless marriage—aren’t a little too easy. But I also enjoyed the wonderfully nuanced exploration of how these hangups manifest, their interactions with her spiritual sensibilities, and the relationships she develops despite them.
Andy Fraser, who plays Katalin, seems to be a capable actor and dedicated to the character, but she wasn’t quite grounded yet on opening night. This, plus the slow lighting and a few other technical errors made the show feel unpolished. But it has great potential, and the world certainly needs more of such narratives: stories about women’s sexuality told without without censure or stigma.
- Aromas, produced by Junes Company, is currently onstage at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, until May 2
- Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 pm with a Saturday matinee at 2 pm
- Tickets are $20; student/senior/arts worker $15; and hipTIX (students 14 – 29) $6.50
- Purchase tickets online