In a time when online dating services are all the rage, “She Loves Me” is an old-fashioned charmer where love is advanced by paper and pen, with an envelope and stamp, as well as a holiday-inspired performance in which the players find love, satisfaction, success and their just deserts.
Hungarian playwright Milos Lazlow wrote the script in 1937 as “Illatszertár,” also known as “Parfumerie,” and it has been produced since then on the stage, in film and as award-winning Broadway musicals. At Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Director Valerie Rachelle nicely teases out the old-world elegance of pre-war Budapest and keeps her focus on romance and society.
Most of the production is set in the eponymous upscale Budapest perfumery of Mr. Maraczek (played by John Lambie). A spectacular Art Nouveau set frames the stage, curved shapes reaching from floor to ceiling. Huge art panels with the fantastical art of Alphonse Mucha create the walls of the shop and the streets of Budapest. The set is foreign and formal, sensual and beautiful, and violins wail a Romani mystery.
Georg Nowack, played by Patrick Massey, and Amalia Balash, played by Lauren Elizabeth Wright with her operatic range, are co-workers who are vocal in their contempt for each other, arguing and sneering and disrupting the shop. They send letters addressed to “Dear Friend,” and the anonymous correspondence reveals each other’s more hidden and personal selves. Georg and Amalia fall in love, and in their love are discovered. Georg and Amalia are made for each other, angry and impatient, and in the end, tender and amorous.
A shop clerk with a family who is glad of a job, Nathan Monks as Sipos is realistic, compassionate and quietly observant. Sipos keeps his head and keeps the peace with his sensible voice and patient manner.
Tony Carter plays Steven Kodaly perfectly, the flashy and deceitful cad that he is (you can tell by the pencil-thin mustache). Mimi Klipstine, who plays Steven’s lover, Ilona Ritter, deserves a big thank you for making the audience cheer every time she flashes that wide smile and those long legs.
One of the most satisfying aspects of “She Loves Me” is the ensemble. Leah Kolb, Kristen Calvin and Haley Forsyth play wealthy, bedecked and bejeweled socialites who shop for lotion, perfume and notions (the talented Peter Wickliffe is along to carry the packages). The ensemble performs a stylized, stylish ballet of gloved cosmetic beauty. That ballet is excellently executed, especially against the elaborate greetings and goodbyes of “Thank you, Madam” performed in unison by the shop clerks.
Somewhat disconcerting given the actors’ physical antics are wobbly tables topped with glass bottles, delicate devices and satin boxes. The props seem to shake alarmingly at the slightest touch, but perhaps I was seated closer to the stage than usual and saw calamity where none was to be feared.
“She Loves Me” is a holiday show, so the shop is decorated with the expected ribbons, bows, presents and holly, and, of course, is celebrated with snow and in song. The cast’s increasingly manic performance of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is truly comical and will also ensure that you get your shopping done early.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s production of “She Loves Me” continues at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and Mondays and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 31. The play is suitable for all ages and runs about two hours, with a 20-minute intermission. Tickets are $25 to $39 and are available online at theoregoncabaret.com, by calling 541-488-2902 or at the box office at 241 Hargadine St., Ashland.
— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer who lives in Ashland, Oregon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.