D i r e c t o r ' s N o t e
Peter Amster, Asolo Repertory Theatre
Miklós László’s play, Perfume Shop, is one of the most successful plays never to have been produced in the United States. Written in Hungarian in 1937, Illatszertar was a huge hit in Budapest when it came to the notice of Ernst Lubitsch, movie director extraordinaire, who turned it into The Shop Around the Corner in 1940, starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan and Frank (the wizard of The Wizard of Oz) Morgan. A few years later it became a vehicle for Judy Garland and Van Johnson: In the Good Old Summertime changed the setting from a perfume shop in Budapest to a music emporium in small-town America.
In 1963, the play was transformed into the musical She Loves Me, with a book by Joe Masteroff and an enchanting score by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, who also wrote Fiddler on the Roof. She Loves Me is much adored and is revived on Broadway and produced in summer stock and regional theatres with great regularity. Finally, in 1998 Nora Ephron used Perfume Shop as the inspiration for the film You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, which brings the play into the digital age and the New York book biz.
Michael Edwards and I were both delighted to discover that László’s play has just been given a new, elegant and very funny translation by E.P. Dowdall, and that the original Perfume Shop is as charming and moving as any of its progeny. In addition to some wonderful surprises, it offers a large ensemble of richly drawn characters. The backdrop of the Great Depression, which hit Vaci Street in Budapest as hard as it hit Main Street U.S.A., gives the romantic comedy a relevant social and historical context, and the mechanism of the story’s plot is intricate and tightly wound. Miklós László’s influential but long-neglected original play puts focus on the small business of seduction, the delicate ways and means of romance.
Love may seem to be for sale in the form of alluring fragrances with their powers to seduce, the puffs and powders, the dreamy creams, the silky lotions of enticement. But as this wise and funny play reminds us, what ultimately matters most lies deeper.