Arts & Entertainment
2 min

A lawful parfumerie

Sixteenth annual Lawyer Play fundraiser is a rom-com production

Allison Vanek as Arpad (left) and Ted Mann as Hammerschmidt (right) in Parfumerie, the annual lawyer play fundraiser. Credit: Andrew Alexander

The Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) has teamed up with the local legal community for the 16th annual Lawyer Play fundraiser in Ottawa.

This year’s production is Parfumerie, a romantic comedy originally written by Miklos Laszlo and adapted by EP Dowdall. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to GCTC and Streetsmarts, a homeless outreach program operated by the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa.

Geoff McBride, who’s directing the play, tells us more in this edited interview.

Daily Xtra: Lawyers, especially litigators, are often considered natural actors. While directing 21 lawyers, articling students and paralegals have you found that to be true?

Geoff McBride: Yes, actually. There are certain habits that they have that could easily be drummed out of them in a theatre school, very simple stuff like how you stand on a stage if you want the audience to see you and hear you — tricks of the trade that myself and other theatre people have developed over the years. None of the performers have any hesitation whatsoever about taking on a character and they dive right in, feet first. It’s really fun and exciting to watch.

What is the central story in Parfumerie?

It takes place in a parfumerie, which is a turn-of-the-century drugstore. We’re in Budapest in the mid-1930s and it’s a love story between Mr Horvath and Amalia, who work at the parfumerie. They don’t know that they’re in love with each other and they’re anonymously corresponding with each other through passionate letters. They don’t realize they’re professing their love to a person who from 9 to 5 they claim to hate.

How do the sets and costumes evoke 1930s Budapest?

I sat down very early with Vanessa Imeson, who is the costume designer, and Stephanie Dahmer, the set designer. Vanessa is very influenced by the designs in Wes Anderson films and wanted to evoke the colour palette that he tends to use, particularly with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Steph was very much on board with that idea and I brought in the concept of wanting it to look like a watercolour painting. Once we’d chosen the palette, texture and style, those two marvelous women went away and created designs for it. It’s a big set, even for the GCTC. We have two levels and it’s quite striking.

Why do you think the romcom genre often takes such a walloping from critics and audiences?

I think because sometimes it’s too true. That’s a broad generalization, but I think when something is too close to the truth, it’s easy to dismiss. Also, there are so many stereotypes in the genre. Every once in a while [a romcom] will shake things up a bit, but for the most part people tend to rely on the formula too much.

From The Shop Around the Corner to You’ve Got Mail, what is it about this play that has inspired so many adaptations?

It’s about people who do not know how to communicate with one other. I think what makes it relevant is they have the means — they can go home and write a passionate letter — but they can’t turn around to the person standing beside them and tell them what they truly mean. That happens not only between the lovers, but there’s also a number of other stories that run through it. Even today, we live in the golden era of communication, but sometimes email and messaging is actually a way to avoid communicating.