The Sweet Smell of Parfumerie

patricia fagan and michael simpson. photo: cylla von tiedemann.

Parfumerie, which plays at Soulpepper until December 24th, 2009, is just as its title suggests: fragrant, alluring and sweet if that suits your style, but perhaps a bit saccharine, if you are like me and perfume gives you a headache.

I have never liked the film You’ve Got Mail (1998), I am not fond of the musical She Loves Me (1963) and Parfumerie (1937) is the Hungarian play by Miklós László that spawned both adaptations of the story of two disgruntled employees who infuriate one another, only to find out that they have also fallen in love amid a lengthy romance consisting only of anonymous letters. Surprisingly, of all the adaptations and modernizations and translations, this production of the original, adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins, is undoubtedly my favourite.

Pettle and Robins have created a beautiful balance in their adaptation between capturing the spirit of Budapest in the 1930s and insuring that the dialogue has a timeless quality to it which sucks the audience ardently into the story. I also appreciated that the play was not simply centered on the two unlikely lovers, but that much of its drama and its humour came from the other workers in the Parfumerie. Ken MacDonald created a dazzlingly charming set with a revolving door, which was used to perfect effect by director Morris Panych throughout the show. Indeed, Panych’s direction was flawless, especially in his knowledge of when to fill the stage with bustling shoppers in rapid succession and when to slow it all down and how to direct the audience’s gaze from one story to the next in each precise moment. The mood was set nicely by the musicians, Miranda Mulholland who played the fiddle and Noah Reid who played the accordion and some appropriately timed Christmas Carolling to insure that the audience was feeling pertinently sentimental.

What insured an enjoyable evening at the theatre with this production for me was the stellar array of Soulpepper cast members. From Maev Beaty’s charm and sense of comic timing to Kevin Bundy’s hilarious Beau Brummel womanizer and Michael Simpson’s earnest, bumbling, utterly endearing Mr. Sipos, it is certain that Soulpepper is sharing talent by the plenty this holiday season. Oliver Dennis and Patricia Fagan play the lovers, George Asztalos and Rosie Balaz respectively, and both give lovely, captivating performances. Dennis is especially endearing in creating George to be a loyal man with strong ideals who is meticulous in his way of ordering his life but easily swayed by emotion. Fagan counters Dennis with a Rosie who is feisty, quick witted and impatient. Fagan’s froggy voice when Rosie gets a cold is particularly fantastic.

The star performances in this play are Jeff Lillico’s delightful and incredibly ambitious mischief-maker apprentice Arpad, who manages to be equal parts endearing and hilarious and Joseph Ziegler’s beautiful performance as Miklos Hammerschmidt. Ziegler creates his Mr. Hammerschmidt as a man of incredible power, distinct dignity and heartbreaking frailty throughout the production and when he is onstage the intensity is palpable.

I was still not entirely convinced of George and Rosie’s abhorrence of one another melting so swiftly upon the realization that both were romantic, intellectual epistlers, but I found that this play’s success did not hinge on my acceptance of this fact either. At the same time, I was so captivated by the characters that I was willing to suspend my disbelief in pursuit of a happily ever after. In all, Parfumerie left me feeling a little bit warmer and very glad of stopping into the world of the shop around the corner.

Thank you for shopping at Hammerschmidt’s!

Parfumerie plays until December 23rd, 2009 at Soulpepper Theatre (55 Mill Street, Toronto). For tickets or more information please call 416.866.8666 or visit

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