Toronto’s “toasty, feel-good Christmas tradition” takes the stage at the Bluma Appel
Soulpepper‘s Parfumerie is by now a holiday staple in Toronto, with Mooney on Theatre having visited three times previous. Despite its reputation, this was my first time seeing what all the fuss was about. Moreover, although I once sat through the first ten minutes of You’ve Got Mail (which was inspired by the original play upon which Soulpepper’s adaptation is based) I was pretty ignorant as to the details going in.
Sitting down at the Bluma Appel Theatre and admiring the pale pink set with rich chocolate accents, I had the early sense that I was in for a pleasant confection of a play; it turns out my early prediction wasn’t too far off the mark.
Written in 1937 by Miklos Laszlo and adapted for Soulpepper by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins, the play centres around a perfume shop in Budapest and the lives and loves of its employees. Principle plotlines revolve around the tumultuous marriage of the shop’s proprietor and, most memorably, the antagonistic rivalry of two employees who have been unknowingly exchanging anonymous love letters for over a year.
In terms of story, this is definitely a light snack as opposed to a full course meal, but a lot of the charm of this particular production comes in that warm simplicity. It’s a bit of frothy Christmas nostalgia that nonetheless manages to strike all the right notes of sincerity and good humour.
Most of this is due to the strength of the cast, with several members reprising their roles from previous productions.
New to the team are Michelle Monteith and Gregory Prest as would-be lovers George and Rosie, both of whom are funny and likeable and transition believably from intense bickering to tentative romance. Prest in particular gets the most to do, as George discovers the truth behind the anonymous correspondence first. His transformation into awkward but well-meaning paramour, laden with doubts but still brimming with persistent hope, is endlessly endearing to watch.
Other stand-out performances come from the veterans: Jeff Lillico as young apprentice Arpad is a hilarious blend of earnest and dry, whilst Joseph Ziegler plays the troubled proprietor Hammerschmidt with a kind of wounded warmth that’s lovely to watch.
The set, meanwhile, is a pink-and-oak concoction with colourful perfume bottles and pastel soaps lining tall curving shelves. Christmas trees eventually fill the windows of the little velvety shop, bringing a homey touch to the elegant setting. In the middle of it all, a beautiful set of oak revolving doors waits to be spun as customers in beautiful period dress spill in and out of the scene. By the time the stage snow starts falling and the distant carolers begin their muffled humming, it’s clear why this is such a toasty, feel-good Christmas tradition for Torontonians in the know.
If you don’t go in for that kind of nostalgic toastiness, though, Parfumerie likely won’t be for you. Its charms are fairly simple and the pace is languid; it makes no apologies for that. While I don’t think it’s one that I’m going to be thinking about for days afterward, it’s still a pleasant good time with a host of strong performances and winning sincerity, perfect for a holiday outing.
- Parfumerie is playing at the St. Lawrence Centre (27 Front St. E) until December 27th — NOT the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, the usual Soulpepper haunt!
- Performances begin at 8:00pm, with two Sunday matinees at 2:00pm.
- Ticket prices start at $29.50, with discounts on 4 or more tickets and are available online, by phone at 416.866.8666, or in person at the box office.
- Folks under 30 can get discounted tickets through Soulpepper’s StagePlay program. Also be aware of Soulpepper’s rush policy, which offers 5 dollar tickets to anyone under 21, one hour before the show, depending on availability.
Photo of Michelle Monteith and Gregory Prest by Cylla von Tiedemann.