Patricia Fagan and Oliver Dennis (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)
A Bit O' Christmas Cheese
The return of Parfumerie is a welcome one
by Jessica Wei
You gotta have a bit of cheese during the holiday season. Pretty A-line dresses and fur stoles, brown paper packages, snow softly falling outside a frosted windowpane, attentive shopkeepers offering perfume samples, men in three-piece suits and boys in newsy caps – Christmas conjures up a 1940s dreamworld. Parfumerie, now playing at Soulpepper Theatre, brings that dreamworld to life. Or at least, to stage, where you can forget about real life for a while.
You can't imagine anyone's Christmas wishes not coming true in a cozy little shop like that...
Set in Budapest in the 1940s, Parfumerie tells the story of two shop employees who hate each other but are in love on paper. George and Rosie have been writing love letters to each other for a year, but neither have any clue that their penfriends are actually their professional enemy (this is explained in the movie, The Shop Around The Corner, which is based on this play, but is sadly unaddressed in Parfumerie). Each letter starts with a simple, “Dear, friend,” and they don't tell each other any specific details about their lives, but they continue to wax poetic about their love. See what I mean about cheese? Meanwhile, elsewhere in this humble shop, the owner, Mr. Hammerschmidt discovers that his wife is having an affair with one of his employees.
There are some plot holes and implausibilities in this play (how did they start their correspondence to begin with? Why is Mr. Hammerschmidt so quick to accuse certain people when the real culprit is blithely obvious? Are they all really this oblivious?), but implausibilities are allowed (to some extent) in holiday comedies. Plausibility is boring. There's enough of it in real life.
Playing heavily with physical comedy, this production punches up a simple rom-com premise with action and excitement. Oliver Dennis, as the romantic male lead, George Asztalos, is meek and charming onstage, forming palpable connections with all of his cast members. The object of his affections, Rosie, played by Patricia Fagan, offsets George's stickler sense of protocol with spunk and whimsy. The shining gems of this cast, however, are Michael Simpson, who plays the bumbling, peace-craving Louis Sipos and Jeff Lillico as Arpad, the smart-alecky apprentice. Sipos is everybody's grandfather, offering soothing words of wisdom to all of his co-workers. He has a remarkable knack for bringing an uproarious hit of humour to lighten any tense situation. Likewise, Lillico's performance is dynamic, alleviating the shopkeeper's morose mood with youth and energy, fearlessly leaping over furniture and delivering jokes with perfect timing.
There is very little in this work that doesn't make a great festive play – an accordion and a violin make for quirky musical accompaniment, the choreography is cleverly well executed, the costumes are enviable, and the set is a delectable feast of eye candy, complete with a revolving door and splashes of pink. You can't imagine anyone's Christmas wishes not coming true in a cozy little shop like that, not when the snow is coming down softly outside a dressed up window. You will leave the theatre holding onto a little bit of holiday magic in your pocket.