PARFUMERIE by Miklós Laszló, adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins, directed by Morris Panych, with Oliver Dennis, Patricia Fagan, Joseph Ziegler, Kevin Bundy and Maev Beaty. Presented by Soulpepper at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). Opens tonight (Thursday, December 8) and runs to December 31, Tuesday-Friday (some exceptions) and December 10 at 7:30 pm, matinees Wednesday (and some other days) 1:30 pm. $22-$65. 416-866-8666. See listing.
According to Maev Beaty, this is her "P" season.
"I'm only doing shows that begin with the letter P." A slight smile forms as she rolls out the titles.
She lists Peggy Pickit, referring to her white-knuckle turn in one-half of Canadian Stage's recent Another Africa; The Penelopiad, Nightwood's all-female staging of Margaret Atwood's feminist reworking of the Odyssey, which opens next January; and Parfumerie, the remount of Soulpepper's Dora Award-winning charmer that opens tonight at the Young Centre.
"So," she adds, with perfect timing, "if you hear of a production of Pygmalion or Peter Pan or Pericles, please let me know."
Beaty's joking, of course, but for those of us who've witnessed her theatrical range over the past few seasons, the possibility of seeing her take on a cockney accent, step into a pair of green tights or even into Shakespearean princely garb is pretty thrilling.
The woman can do practically anything.
One season she's the Bard's Helena, frolicking around the outdoor setting for Canadian Stage's A Midsummer Night's Dream; the next she's brandishing a rifle as the bigoted soldier based on Guantánamo Bay officer Lynndie England in Judith Thompson's Palace Of The End.
One month she's playing the pinched, repressed spinster in The Mill; the next she's shedding all her clothes as an artist-turned-liberated-artists'-model in Montparnasse.
"At one point I imagined that my career would lead me to Shakespeare and the classics," she says, "I never thought I'd be doing new Canadian plays, but after Palace Of The End I became a little obsessed with the idea. And I also realized that creating new work was both a desire and a necessity."
I've asked to meet at a place that means something special to her, so we're sitting in the chapel of the Church of St. George the Martyr, where just over a decade ago Beaty used to study scenes with Alan Dilworth (who would later become her husband) and Patrick Robinson.
"We'd meet in the beautiful garden in the courtyard," she says. When it got colder, a priest named Max invited them into the church to rehearse.
"It was all very boho romantic," smiles Beaty. The three put on a show in the church and eventually created Belltower Theatre, named for the bell in the courtyard. When Dilworth and Beaty got married seven years ago, they convinced Max (who presided over the ceremony) to have the bell rung. Theatrical touch, ya know?
It was early Belltower productions like Ma Jolie and The Unforgetting, written and directed by Dilworth and starring Beaty and Robinson, that first launched their careers. Dilworth has since proved a fine director, helming Erin Shields's Governor General's Award-winning If We Were Birds.
And Beaty has put her stamp on a dozen memorable roles, especially hard-hitting dramatic ones.
Her layered character in Another Africa was coping with culture shock as well as the loss of a child and her husband's infidelity; her unnamed character in Brendan Gall's Wide Awake Hearts was a tough-as-nails film editor who'd been around the block.
So she's happy to get back to the relatively gentle world of 1930s Hungary in Soulpepper's new seasonal classic, Parfumerie, a retelling of the famous tale made into the movies You've Got Mail and The Shop Around The Corner.
"For a feel-good story, it's very human and goes to some very sad and poignant places," says Beaty with the same emotional clarity she brings to her stage work. "My character's on the hunt, and of course she's smitten with the office cad. It's almost like that movie Love Actually. You've got unrequited love, love between an employer and worker, sex versus love, opportunistic love."
Beaty mentions how much comfort and optimism the play has, things she's seeking in her life right now.
It's been a time of loss and reflection. Less than a year ago, she lost her paternal grandfather. Then came the loss of Gina Wilkinson, who directed her in Wide Awake Hearts. Just over a week ago, Beaty buried her 93-year-old grandmother.
"If I tear up, that's why," she says. "I believe these losses open up space for opportunity, hope, change. And it's in those periods when you have to be the most courageous. You can't let fear drive your choices."
Beaty's been thinking a lot about what shaped her life and her interest in performing, and believes it goes back to the love of storytelling.
"When my grandmother passed, she had three different books on tape going," she says. "She'd lost her sight, but had these machines set up all over the house. She'd follow one narrative up in the bedroom, another in the kitchen and another on the front porch."
Beaty's middle name is Alice, for Alice Kane, the renowned Canadian storyteller, and her mother was a children's librarian. Before high school in Kingston, she grew up on farms in the Thousand Islands region, where "chickens were so free-range they'd be in the house." Every Christmas Eve, the family read to each other.
"We chose an article or short story or poem and took turns reading," she says. "A human being telling a story to another human being or groups of human beings was just normal. So theatre was the natural evolution from that."
Upcoming projects include the star-studded Penelopiad and a spring festival devoted to the works of Edward Bond, whom Beaty and Dilworth are bringing over from England for a series of productions, workshops and lectures involving several theatres, including Stratford.
But there doesn't seem to be any film or TV in the works.
"It'd be ridiculous to say the reason I haven't done film and TV is because I'm busy doing theatre, because there's nothing to say that if I weren't busy doing theatre I'd be booking any of those gigs," she says.
"But it's definitely something that interests me - and intimidates me. TV and film are like that really glamorous, cute boy standing in the corner of the party in high school. I'm intrigued by him and I wish he would notice me, and maybe I'll play with my hair a little bit and hope that he will."
I decide to run with the metaphor.
"And have you made it clear you want him to notice you?"
"No, I haven't gone up and asked him to dance. Not yet."
"Well, you've been dancing with some other partners."
"I have," she says, laughing. "Partners that are truly dreamboats. Great partners."
Hair and makeup by Michelle Rosen/
TRESemmé Hair Care/Judy Inc.
Fashion styling by Kirsten Reader/Judy Inc.
Beaty is wearing: tank, Helmut Lang @ TNT; silk pants, Elizabeth & James @ TNT; necklace, Jenny Bird, Jenny-bird.com.