Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Vortex Theatre
Review by Carla Cafolla

Philip J. Shortell and Matthew Van Wettering
Photo by Jason Ponic
We watch as snow falls outside the clear bay windows of this quaint, old-fashioned emporium. Within, we find a world where shoppers enjoy individual attention from knowledgeable clerks with manners from a bygone age. Yet even in this world of almost Dickensian elegance, a small establishment where perfumes, soaps, and other necessities of a lady's toilette are lovingly created for purchase, lurks intrigue, heartbreak, deceit, romance and ... hilarity.

Written by Miklós László and adapted for the stage by László' nephew E.P. Dowdall, Parfumerie is a delightful profusion of so many human qualities, good and not so good, you can't help but relate. No wonder it was the inspiration for the movie The Shop around the Corner starring James Stewart, the Broadway musical She Loves Me, and the more recent You've Got Mail featuring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The innocence and charm of young love, the duplicity of infidelity, agonizing jealousy, greed, dalliances, friendships, and loyalty tumble (sometimes literally) across the stage in this wonderful and surprisingly beautiful Vortex Theatre production directed by James Cady.

Instantly, the bustle of business appears (Cady is so good at creating atmosphere). Customers are gently shooed out into the dark, snowy evening as the store begins to close. Two salespeople, Mr. Kadar and Miss Ritter (played with enjoyment by Abigail Cunningham), feud quietly as he throws her over for another, yet unnamed, leaving the wily minx bitter, despite she herself being affianced. Exceptionally irate and sarcastic, the proprietor berates an unfortunate clerk as other employees withdraw from the impending encounter. Only one, Mr. Sipos, attempts to intervene to prevent conflict between the two. Never was a criminal more vilified and belittled than Mr. George Horvath, by his employer and one-time friend and mentor, Miklós Hammerschmidt.

And so, little by little, the young man's tranquil world begins to come apart. The endless squabbling defining his relationship with lively, young and sassy co-worker Miss Amalia Balash now takes on a harsher edge as he blames her for his misfortune. Later, before departing, he confides in Mr. Sipos, telling of his love for a girl he has yet to meet, but with whom, through their letters, he has fallen in love, unaware that he and she are already acquainted. Now, however, because of his sudden change in status, he feels obliged to break their first date.

Other characters pepper the stage and the stories. Bicycle messenger Arpad, played by Wolfram Maikranz (what a wonderful name), cheerful, hapless, and a menace on the road, inadvertently becomes pivotal to the plot. The gigolo salesman Kadar (Jim Williams relishes his role), having set his sights far higher than his earlier squeeze, has much to answer for. Customers, with a single deliberate exception, are stylish, refined and fashionable.

Costume designer Jason Godin is to be commended for his tremendous work. Under their director's guidance, sound designer Casey Mraz and lighting designer RayRey Greigo also deserve high praise for effortlessly ushering in the many moods of the play. A long, slow silence from the audience accompanies Hammerschmidt's newfound awareness of betrayal by his cosseted wife, and Philip J. Shortell is, as always, excellent–we feel his anguish and experience the bitter truth of his words.

However as this is, we must remember, a romantic comedy, we are treated to a great many genuinely funny moments. Who knew there was such a thing as an anthropomorphic broom? That the once lowly messenger boy would become a fine officious bully only to be swiftly and entertainingly deflated? It is no surprise our young lovers Horvath and Balash, so well played by Matthew Van Wettering and Shannon Hayes, are the darlings of the appreciative opening weekend's audience, no surprise at all–for who doesn't smile indulgently seeing such a couple?

But it must be said that the star of this production is, without doubt, Harry Zimmerman. His Mr. Sipos is endlessly caring, honorable yet unassuming, and riotously funny when the occasion calls for it–and often when it doesn't. That Zimmerman, an accomplished actor of both stage and screen, did, due to unexpected circumstances, step into the role a mere eight days before opening night, and manages to be indistinguishable from other cast members who had 12 weeks preparation, is a notable achievement. That we wouldn't know this except we are told, is further tribute to his talent and dedication. Very, very well done.

For all the intricacies of the dual plotline, Cady, along with his talented cast, ties this yuletide tale together so beautifully it doesn't seem remotely odd that onstage we experience 1930s winter in Eastern Europe, while outside the New Mexico sun has yet to set. With so many endearing events, it is hardly remarkable the ease with which this almost three-hour production passes. Parfumerie is delightful. My only gripe is perhaps Arpad is a tad too rough with young Fritz–that moment jarred me for some reason, but regardless of my issues, you will really enjoy this play.

All the ingredients of a happily ever after are present, and in just the right proportions, on this gorgeous set. The stars, in the shape of a multi-talented quintet comprising set designer Mary Rossman, master carpenter and building crew Thane Kenny and Mark Conine, and set decoration and properties duo Lorri Oliver and Pete Parkin align on this show. The attention to detail is exquisite, period perfume bottles and carefully wrapped soaps adorn the counters and shelves, and the chandeliers...!

So go see it, and soon. The Vortex Theatre has shortened the run for upcoming shows, and you don't want to miss this one.

Parfumerie runs through July 9, 2023, at the Vortex Theatre 2900 Carlisle Ave. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. First Sunday is always PWYW, and second Sunday has a talkback. General admission $24. Students & SAG/AFTRA $19. For tickets and information, please visit or call 505-247-8600.