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She Loves Me at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 05 April 2007

It’s a toss–up. If you can be bothered to go out for the evening and see the play, write to me and tell me your opinion. Here’s mine: Jacqueline Andersen, Coley Grundman, Alex Shafer, and Peter Budinger are tied for my Actor Most Enjoying Him/HerSelf Award, all for different reasons.

She Loves Me is directed by Marti Baer. The musical comedy takes place in a European town in the 1930s (originally Budapest), in a tale involving employees of Maraczek’s Parfumerie.

The show has nice magical touches. Musical Director Pat King has even made some of the music funny. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. Oozing from the orchestra pit come preposterous sounds, they’re quite laughable. A pile of leaves is thrown on the stage by an unseen hand, the audience laughs joyously, and we know the season has moved to autumn. The set is elegant. With almost no fuss, one scene changes from the street outside to the Parfumerie inside—we want to see the play again, just to watch the scene change! Kris Bell, the choreographer, had a good time setting up this show. Couples dance, they fight, they flow, everyone moves together in coordinated mayhem.

The story is about love, some of which occurs in the most unlikely places. Even the financial kingpin, Mr. Maraczek (Larry Schrupp), turns out to have amorous aches in his heart. Stuffy, heartsick Mr. Maraczek is awkward in love, a rôle Larry plays well, though he also gets a few amusing moments, such as handing over the keys to his Parfumerie, and some woeful doldrums during his medical recovery.

Some of us remember the dark ages before the internet, so we know lonely singles once reached out to each other via letter, often pseudonymously. Unbeknownst to themselves, two employees of Maraczek’s Parfumerie are writing to each other.

Georg Nowack (Coley Grundman, photo) is a young man ready for love. Even Mr. Maraczek tells him so. But Georg is already aware of his need, for he has been writing to a “Dear Friend.”

Photo: In an unaccustomed bit of indiscretion, store clerk Ilona (Alison Peltz, right) blurts out some damaging information to fellow employees Ladislav (Alex Shafer, left) and store manager Georg (Coley Grundman, center) Photo by Jerry Telfer.

Amalia Balash (Jacqueline Andersen on Opening Night, also played by Robin Steeves) is a young woman determined to get a job at the Parfumerie and she strides into the shop filled with a lovely combination of anxiety and aggression. With a stroke of luck—and Mr. Marachek—she lands the job. Within moments she locks horns with her boss, store manager Georg. Amalia is beautiful and brilliant with a lovely voice. We are captivated by her temper! From almost the moment she steps on stage, fire flashes from her eyes, and we fall for her.

Amalia and Georg, as leads, are the only characters whose attitudes change throughout the course of the play; their suspiciously antagonistic beginnings transform through tentative romancing to downright love. And they have so much fun fighting each other, misunderstanding each other, and getting each other in trouble with the boss.

Georg starts slow, in the beginning I was not very interested in him. But something happens. Maybe Coley got inspired or the scriptwriter got juiced or the Director cracked her whip, but Georg blossoms out of his shell. The performance is all the more dramatic because of the tepid, repressed man he was. If I were 15 years younger (and possibly slightly more svelte), I’m sure I could have made him fall in love with me. Almost certainly. He, on the other hand, does an excellent job getting Amalia to fall for him. And we, the enrapt audience, are drawn along each heart wrenching step.

The third love affair happens between two new-to-me actors, DC Scarpelli and Alison Peltz. DC Scarpelli, playing Steven Kodaly, is the spouse of another Masquer performer, so his face was familiar, but get him in costume and in front of the lights and watch out! Hoo-boy, what a delight! Without question he is the most seductive character on stage, just a curl of the lip and a twist of the raised eyebrow and Kodaly reveals his predatory womanizing soul. Such a classy diabolical man. Oooo.

Alison Peltz, playing Ilona Ritter, gives a superb performance. Ilona is a woman whose affair is not progressing down the best of routes. At times she clatters around the stage like an anxious colt and in others she waltzes in fluid graceful moves; she swoons in love-struck adoration, then vituperates at the object of her fancy. She flitters between these poses like a butterfly, she is endearing and pitiable and great.

Ladislav Sipos (Alex Shafer) is a deferential, self-effacing clerk and quite clear about his primary motivation: Not Getting Fired. He sings “I’m an idiot, but at least I’m an idiot with a job.” Ladislav is an ironic, ruthlessly truthful man (when not sucking up), a return for Alex to the deadpan rôle at which he excels. Ladislav claims to be fully demoralized, without an ounce of pride, but he makes endless quick-witted, sarcastic quips at his fellows, all with a perfectly straight face.

Peter Budinger, playing Arpad Lazlo, was allowed some creativity in interpreting his part. It has his earmarks: he is a lunatic. His performance as a young teenage delivery boy with an eye to promotion is full of gymnastic antics, which are both absurd and charming. I can’t say for sure that Peter is having the time of his life playing this rôle, but it sure feels like he is.

The ensemble crew were Tom Accettola, Stuart Rosenthal, Mary Kidwell, Nancy Benson, Hattie Mullaly, and Robert Love. Many of the ensemble crew were new to me and played a variety of rôles in the background, so I can’t reliably comment on them as individuals. One or more are constantly on stage in different guises, making a great chorus, stalwart lemmings, and a superbly orchestrated Christmas commotion. Robert Love adds to the fun in his rôle as a snooty waiter in what—he keeps reminding the fighting Georg and Amalia—is meant to be a romantic câfé. To their acute embarrassment, he makes pointed suggestions. These antics brought the house down in gales of laughter.

What an enjoyable production!