Thursday, July 11, 2019

North American Premiere of PARFUMERIE? June 2004 in Urbana

I'm bumping up my blog after a year away to create a record that the play "Parfumerie" was done in the summer of 2004 at the University of Illinois, as part of their Summerfest season. A Wikipedia article on playwright Miklos Laszlo claims the American premiere of the play occurred in 2009. Au contraire!

I don't know what headline would've appeared with it back then, but here's my review, written June 25, 2004, and published in the Champaign News-Gazette:

Before "Parfumerie" even started, I found myself fascinated by the program notes offered by Summerfest producing director James Berton Harris, in which he details his search for the script of this charming little play.

Harris talks about watching "The Shop Around the Corner," a 1940 movie directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and seeing a credit for the play it was based on, something called "Illatszertar," by Miklos Laszlo. That credit set Harris on a quest to locate an English translation of the play, which sent him searching through Hungarian, French, and English sources, all to no avail. The play good enough to form the basis of a famous film, a movie musical ("In the Good Old Summertime"), a wonderful stage musical ("She Loves Me") and a snappy Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan vehicle ("You've Got Mail") continued to elude his grasp.

But when all was said and done – in a moment of drama worthy of the stage – Harris found himself back at the University of Illinois Library. There, in the University Rare Book and Special Collections Library, he found an English translation of the play in papers donated to the University by "Shop" screenwriter Samson Raphaelson.

Whether you want to call that kismet, karma or the hand of fate, Harris had his play. After more drama to acquire the rights, he turned it over to director Peter Reynolds, a guest director with Summerfest since 1998, who does a fine job of translating this pretty pastry of a play, backed by excellent performances, a lovely set and decoration by designer Michael Franklin-White, and elegant 1930's costumes designed by James Berton Harris himself.

If you've seen any of the above – "The Shop Around the Corner," "In the Good Old Summertime," "She Loves Me" or "You've Got Mail" – you'll know part of the plot, about pen pals who fall in love without a clue that they know each other – and can't stand each other – in real life. Those incarnations vary in their treatment of secondary characters, but the play "Parfumerie" focuses on those stories just as much as the romance.

There's Mr. Hammerschmidt, the owner of the Parfumerie, who's experiencing marital difficulties that spill over into his work life; Albert and Amalia, the pen pals who don't know they work together; young Arpad, the messenger boy who has aspirations to become a clerk; and diffident Mr. Sipos, who tries to stay out of trouble and hang onto his job, but is perhaps a bit too nosy for his own good.

It's sort of a dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless, and that's what makes the play work.

Steven M. Keen leads the cast as cranky Mr. Hammerschmidt, while the would-be lovers are winningly portrayed by Jason Maddy and Sari Sanchez. Timothy Patrick Klein is also good – and hits the laugh lines – as Sipos, while Thomas Lopez makes an energetic and rambunctious Arpad, who also gets his share of laughs.

This is a delicate and sweet production of a play that has apparently never been performed in North America, and well worth a visit., if for no other reason than those program notes. Kudos to James Berton Harris for keeping up the search until he found "Parfumerie."

By Miklos Laszlo.

Cast includes Steven M. Keen, Jason Maddy, Brent T. Barnes, Cristina Panfilio, Timothy Patrick Klein, Joi Hoffsommer, Sari Sanchez, Thomas Lopez, and Matthew Churilla.

Director: Peter Reynolds.
Scenic Designer: Michael Franklin-White.
Costume Designer: James Berton Harris.
Lighting Designer: David Warfel.
Sound Designer: Chuck Hatcher.
Stage Manager: Jennifer Collins Hard.

Summerfest 2004.

In repertory through August 1.
Studio Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana.

Box office: 333-6280.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including two 15-minute intermissions.

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