A country divided, fractured into a half dozen splinter groups. Ungovernable. Where every faction hates every other faction, all lacking the capacity to empathize with the struggles of others. Lacking the ability to even talk to each other, these alienated splinters claw for power, marginalizing minority groups, all driven by the panicky fear that they themselves could be annihilated. Sound familiar?
Hungary, 1937. Recently (and temporarily) autonomous, spun off of the great Austria-Hungarian Empire by the Treaty of Versailles and soon to be pulverized in the vice between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Hungary hung precariously in the delicate peace in the eye of the storm. The fallen royalty hated the aristocracy who hated the rising working class. And everyone hated the Jews. Squabbling for status and power, none knew how to speak with the others.
This is the world of Miklos Laszlo’s “Parfumerie,” the play which was adapted no only into “She Loves Me,” but also “The Shop Around the Corner,” a Jimmy Stewart movie in the 40s, The Judy Garland movie, “In the Good Old Summertime” and Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail.” Clearly, Mr. Laszlo had tapped into something universal in his story of two social enemies who learn, when they are separated and blindfolded by the power of the pen, that they have much more to talk about than either would ever have admitted.
The perfume shop was a microcosm of Laszlo’s Hungary, a “bubble of denial,” where the stench of cultural and racial hatred was temporarily covered over with a thin veneer of sweet smells. His squabbling couples represent the fallen aristocracy forced to work for a living, the ambitious working class clawing its way up out of poverty, and the grand Hungarian pure bloods who feel entitled to take whatever they want. The Jewish shop owner walks the uneasy line between racism everyone around him and their need for his services, while many of the ordinary citizens bury their heads in the sand, in denial of the cataclysm to come.
We are proud to present this tuneful Holiday confection whose glittering surface hides the truth of a society at war with itself. Hopeful that its Hungarian factions can find love if they can find a way to talk to each other, “She Loves Me” gives us hope too that our own splintered America can find language to help us heal.
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