Michelle Xu/The Hoya
Michelle Xu/The Hoya

Based on Miklós László’s 1936 play “Parfumerie,” Mask and Bauble’s production of “She Loves Me” offers a two and a half hour pleasurable browse into Maraczek’s Perfumery in Budapest, where a sweet and funny romance unfolds. The storyline is a universal charmer, centered on the mild-tempered manager, George Nowack and the smart, independent sales girl, Amalia Balash. At first sight, the two immediately dislike each other. They both write letters regularly addressed anonymously to “Dear Friend” unaware that their intellectual and romantic exchange is, in fact, with each other. As the chemistry between George and Amalia slowly changes from comic quarrels to sweet romance, the audience is left to laugh at their bickering, feel nervous for the budding love and savor the cozy atmosphere of love when they finally fall in each other’s arms.

The anticipation of George and Amalia’s connection keeps the audience entranced and the actors brilliantly portray the subtle chemistry. As Amalia Balash, Reagan Lawn (COL ’16) said that she faced a challenge in her role to “balance a girl in love and a strong, independent female character.” Lawn’s first appearance into the show deftly demonstrates the character’s two-sided personality. She plays the insecure yet undeterred Amalia, who seeks a job at Maraczek’s Perfumery and eventually earns the position with her witty lines that convince the customer to pay despite George’s sour dismissal. Even when she is nervous and doubtful of herself, thinking that her pen pal did not show up to their rendezvous, she still has a sense of confidence that allows her to quickly regain her usual cheerfulness. Lawn captures Amalia’s mood swings and seamlessly weaves the character’s occasional blues into an overall positive disposition that characterizes Amalia.

The stellar supporting cast is particularly crucial to the show’s lighthearted and happy mood. Peter Fanone (COL ’15) pulls off the womanizer and salesman, Mr. Kodaly, with a mesmerizing performance. Miss Ritter, played splendidly by Zoe Novak (COL ’17), sometimes gives in and other times dismisses Mr. Kodaly’s alluring tricks. Their flirtatious dance moves add more comedic aspect to the show. Contrasting with Fanone’s character, Andrew Walker (SFS ’16) plays the delivery boy Arpad with an honest and corky mien, suffused with smiles and happiness.

With a deeper look into the story and its significance, it is clear that the characters’ experiences are not all happy and easy-going. Miss Ritter is constantly tricked by Mr. Kodaly’s playfulness. George suffers from Mr. Maraczek’s grumpy and unpredictable temper that is a result of, as we later find out, his wife’s secret love affair.

Despite the struggles of real life, all the characters of “She Loves Me” are resilient and strive to be happy. Miss Ritter continues to find new love and Amalia, without being discouraged from the absence of her “Dear Friend” on their first date, keeps writing letters to him. Mr. Maraczek quickly recuperates from the devastation of a broken marriage and finds small joy with Arpad in their downtown excursion. Arpad, who immediately agrees to Mr. Maraczek’s invite to spend Christmas Eve together in downtown, epitomizes what it means to be content with little things.

The message to find small joy among the adversities in everyday life is particularly evident in George’s character. Although once unemployed, he overcomes his loss of confidence to pursue his love interests and eventually reclaims his job with a promotion. As the actor, Matt Grisier (COL ’16), points out, “what is really scary about playing this character in particular is that it could go one of the two ways. It could go kind of bland compared to some of the more lively characters surrounding him.” George can very well turn out to be a plain, ordinary man fighting his struggles and overcomes them with a happy ending. However, Grisier portrays George with a depth such that the character showcases a sense of appealing optimism that permeates the show to make the downturns less arduous and the ups more enjoyable.

Everything about the staging of the musical is amiable and made for comfort, including Michael Donnay’s (COL ’16) stage design. The mise-en-scene is a simple upfront view of the perfumery, which brings the audience back to a bygone local shopping scene, as compared to the modern mega malls, department stores or even online shops. In addition, the choreography displays familiar moves and the audience soon finds immersed in the musical rhythm and unconsciously mouthing the lyrics.

While “She Loves Me” has been adapted into films and produced on Broadway several times, this production by Mask & Bauble has “a very unique Georgetown flavor to it” according the to producer Timothy Rosenberger (COL ’16). “We had to adopt what was available to Georgetown. Our musicians are largely Georgetown students, so there is a slightly different sound and a very personal type that you don’t get in other productions,” he said.

The production stays loyal to the optimism of the musical and in fact, the delight and fun element of “She Loves Me” is the reason that it is chosen over other more well-known pieces of the golden age to be presented to the Georgetown community. “We wanted to do a new kind of theatre that we hadn’t seen in Georgetown in a while. Georgetown has a lot of really heavy, really dark, really, I would say culturally important theatric work, but not necessarily fun and indulgent kind of theatrical work that ‘She Loves Me’ is,” Rosenberger said.

If you’re looking for a fantastically fun show or to experience a lost jewel of American musical legacy, “She Loves Me” opens April 3 at the intimate Stage III of Poulton Hall.

 

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