Parfumerie Theater Review
One of the key factors that conspire to make L.A. a great town for live thee-a-tuh is the vast talent pool the legit stage has to draw from, thanks to the presence of the movie and TV studios here. So there are three main reasons to see Parfumerie, an adaptation of the 1936 rom com Illatszertar by Budapest-born playwright Miklos Laszlo by his nephew E.P. Dowdall.
First of all, auds will get to watch two top TV thesps trod the boards in this live production. Deborah Ann Woll, who plays the crazy sexy redheaded vampire Jessica Hamby in HBO’s True Blood series, portrays Miss Amalia Balash, an employee of a posh Budapest perfume shop, from whence the play’s title comes. Amalia feuds with her fellow shop clerk Mr. George Horvath (Eddie Kaye Thomas) while carrying on a torrid love affair via the mail with a correspondent whose identity is unknown to her.
Richard Schiff, who played the conscience of Martin Sheen’s -- uh, I mean Pres. Josiah Bartlet’s -- White House in NBC’s West Wing series, co-stars as Mr. Miklos Hammerschmidt, the owner of the titular Hungarian perfumery. The two-acter takes place during the holiday season, and amidst the seasonal hubbub of buying and selling scents the usually even-keeled Hammerschmidt is especially high strung. At first your reviewer thought this was due to hard times the business might be experiencing during the Depression (not the one we’re in now -- Parfumerie is set during the last one, the 1930s). But of course, as this period piece is being staged in Beverly Hills, personal woes trump the economic ones. (Given that the cast includes little screen vets I can see it now: A new “reality” TV series called Shopkeepers of Beverly Hills!)
While the acting by Woll, Schiff and most of the company is good, if not extraordinary (with the exception of Jacob Kemp, whose comical character Arpad Novack undergoes a surprising and humorous evolution), Allen Moyer’s set design is truly stellar. His evocation of a pre-WWII East European perfumery, so rich in lavish detail (with snowflakes falling outside the windows!), is the most sumptuous set this critic has ever seen on an L.A. stage, with the sole exception of some of L.A. Opera’s onstage marvels. Indeed, this Tony and Drama Desk-nominated scenic designer has wrought his marvels for the Metropolitan and other opera houses, as well as for numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Bravo, Mr. Moyer, and thanks for your feast for the eyes (and noses)!
Recommended for You
Which brings me to the third thing that makes seeing Parfumerie a worthwhile endeavor. This is the first play being presented at the brand new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, a beautiful new addition to the Angeleno stage scene. From its original artwork by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein to its lovely architecture, it is all, well, very Beverly Hills. The Wallis is a worthy way to celebrate the centennial of this enclave of wealth in our city, which is -- lest we forget -- so beset by poverty.
As for the play itself: Well, Parfumerie may be a bit played out, long in the tooth and overly familiar to audiences, as it was adapted for the screen three times. Ernst Lubitsch directed 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner, with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as the star-crossed lovers. Following the invention of that newfangled email, Laszlo’s concoction about correspondence gone terribly wrong was updated by co-writer/director Nora Ephron in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, co-starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Mistaken identities has long been a convention of theater and opera, from Shakespeare to Mozart and, alas, beyond. This old saw of a plot device rears its ugly head in this letter writing themed comedy-drama. Some ticket buyers may be tickled by the ruse, while others might find the plot and play to be contrived, creaky and old fashioned. The second act is far better and more entertaining than the first. But, oh that glorious set, which reminded me of the interiors of Confiserie Sprüngli, the exquisite 19th century chocolate shop and café at Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse! Overall, although it’s not exactly letter-perfect, most theatergoers will be entertained by this holiday fluff at a gorgeous new showcase for live theater.
Parfumerie is being performed Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. through Dec. 22 in the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. For info: (310)746-4000.
“The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” is the new book co-authored by L.A.-based writer Ed Rampell. See: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/.