Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Parfumerie

Patricia Fagan and Oliver Dennis (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Christmas Comedy of the Best Kind
by Spencer Malthouse

OK, Cupid, what if you fell in love with someone you’d never met or seen but with whom you corresponded regularly? Now what if it turns out that not only do you know that person but that you actually despise her? A lot of dramatic irony and some great opportunities for slapstick would certainly occur and there would definitely be the potential for a Hollywood spin-off. Soulpepper’s adaptation of Miklos Laszlo’s Parfumerie imbues the situational comedy with quick and adorable theatricality. 

Set in a high-end shop in Budapest in 1937, six store workers and their boss prepare for Christmas. The central romance of the piece is a love story between two of the co-workers who adore one another as anonymous correspondents but loathe each other in person. Meanwhile, there is deceit and concern amongst the staff s as it becomes apparent that one of the employees has been shtooping the boss’s wife. The play flies along with superb pacing although a few pauses in the second act were longer than necessary. The first act contained a little too much exposition and could have been cut slightly. That said, the plot flows simply and is filled with comic moments and the play is a joy to watch. 

Two roving Hungarian musicians who integrate seamlessly into the action of the play provide the music. The musicians’ costumes in particular were brilliant and definitely invoke the location. The construction of Hammerschmidt’s and Co includes beautifully worked wooden windows and a really captures the feel of what one imagines a “parfumerie” circa 1937 would be like. This play is eminently relatable even considering the foreign setting and period. The themes are touching and the characters sympathetic and it is only too easy to imagine ourselves in similar situations.

The acting was of course superb. I raise one criticism that the actors demonstrated a proclivity to shouting when in some cases a more nuanced vocality would have answered. If this is a fault of the direction it is the only fault – Morris Panych has the physicality of the play timed to perfection and I commend John Stead as well as the cast for uproariously slapstick fight scenes. Panych presents the play authentically and finds a touching comedy throughout. 

Everyone should go see this play. Soulpepper continues to demonstrate a very high production value and quality creations. This interpretation should be canonized as a Christmas classic alongside of It’s a Wonderful Life and Dicken’s A Christmas Carol

Runs Nov. 30 to December 28

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