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Theater Review: 'Parfumerie' At The Wallis

Katie Buenneke |
December 22, 2013 | 11:07 a.m. PST

Theater Editor

The cast of "Parfumerie" at the Wallis. Photo by Jim Cox.
The cast of "Parfumerie" at the Wallis. Photo by Jim Cox.
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl hate each other. Boy and girl secretly write each other letters and fall in love, not knowing the identity of their secret pen pals. Boys angers girl. Boy finds out girl is his pen pal. Boy makes girl fall in love with him. Boy reveals true identity and they lived happily ever after, the end.

Sound familiar?

If so, you’re probably familiar with Nora Ephron’s contemporary classic “You’ve Got Mail,” featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or “The Shop Around the Corner,” a 1940 movie with Jimmy Stewart, or the musical “She Loves Me” by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. But don’t cry Shia LaBeouf just yet—none of those works was plagiarized. All three were adaptations of the Hungarian play “Parfumerie” by Miklos Laszlo, now playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

But “Parfumerie” is about much more than the love story that’s prompted many an adaptation. In the Budapest perfume shop of Mr. Hammerschmidt (Richard Schiff), Mr. George Horvath (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is the boss’ right-hand man—but Hammerschmidt has taken a sudden disliking to Horvath. Mr. Sipos (Arye Gross), another employee is watching carefully, while Ms. Amalia Balash (Deborah Ann Woll, "True Blood") and Mr. Horvath continually butt heads.

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While the love story between Amalia and George is threaded throughout the story, the play is actually more about Mr. Hammerschmidt’s story. Schiff plays the man dealing with his wife’s infidelity with pathos, and as more of the situation is revealed, his seemingly-random outbursts become much more understandable.

Under the crisp direction of Mark Brokaw ("Cinderella" on Broadway), the plot moves along at a good pace, never lingering for too long on unwanted moments, and the acting is quite effective. However, after viewing to entirety of “Parfumerie,” it becomes clear why the love story is the most-adapted portion of the play—it is far and away the most compelling storyline. Though Laszlo has created a fully-realized world for all of his characters, and the play is more of an ensemble piece than a romantic comedy, it is the relationship between Thomas’ George and Woll’s Amalia that is the most enjoyable to watch.

READ MORE: Theater Review: 'Cinderella' On Broadway

Allen Moyer’s scenic design and David Lander’s lighting design make the beautiful Bram Goldsmith Theater at the brand new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts even more gorgeous than it already is. The new proscenium theater is a good venue, and should provide a nice home for many shows seeking a medium-sized audience in the future.

Given how many adaptations it has inspired, “Parfumerie” is produced rarely. The production at the Wallis attacks the text vivaciously, but unfortunately, their combined talent is not enough to keep the show as a whole from dragging. The cast and crew fight valiantly, and occasionally succeed in making the narrative move along at an enthralling pace, but often, the story becomes too cumbersome for the experience as a whole to rise to the levels of its best moments.

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