In today's world of e-mail and cell phones, it's hard to remember the anticipation and sometimes tortuous wait for the mail carrier to arrive. Christine Paterson, the female lead in the REP's She Loves Me, remembers the days when snail mail was the mail: "I remember when I went to camp and waited expectantly for that letter from home. And when you receive that letter, it just makes your day."
Paterson plays exuberant Amalia, a young woman who works at a Budapest perfume shop in the 1930s. She initially is held in low esteem by her supervisor, Georg (Alan Osburn).
They spend their days sparring, unaware that they both spend their evenings writing to and awaiting letters from their lonely-hearts pen pals, each known simply as "Dear friend." Unbeknownst to our love-struck antagonists, they are each other's anonymous scribes.
Their colleagues at Maraczek's Parfumerie comprise a pseudo-family. Dylan Mosley plays womanizing scoundrel Mr. Kodally, who, when the mood takes him, seduces nave cashier Ilona Ritter (Peggy Mundinger).
Sales clerk Ladislav Sipos (Michael Augenstein) is Georg's confidant and the self-deprecating voice of reason. Overly enthusiastic delivery boy Arpad Laszlo (Ben Burch) is the family's true innocent.
Watching over the group is less-than-stable patriarch Mr. Maraczek, played with uncharacteristic reserve by David Plambeck.
She Loves Me, directed by Kelly Walters, begins the REP's 2005-06 season at the Fine Arts Center. It's based on a Joe Masteroff (Cabaret) book that, itself, was an adaptation of the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo. First performed on Broadway in 1963, it's also been adapted into three movie screenplays, most recently in 1998 as You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Like Hanks and Ryan, Paterson and Osburn show sparks, possibly because they have a history of working together. Paterson says there's a chemistry of trust between them, and it shows in their playful jousting through some demanding scenes.
Visually, the show is a treat. The sets are spectacular, the costumes wonderful and the orchestra strong but not overpowering.
Parts of the story are uplifting, and Paterson's Amalia is a delight. Her voice fills the auditorium, and her frenetic performance is enchanting, especially in the solo "Vanilla Ice Cream." Augenstein's Sipos is as charming as his Schultz in last season's Cabaret.
Granted, much as the characters' smiles conceal their less-than-perfect lives, the sets camouflage a musical with some kinks. Some scenes seem unnecessary, too many subplots are left hanging and the final realization of true love is anti-climatic. As the show gains its stride, She Loves Me hopefully will become a special delivery for expectant audiences.
-- Wayne Young
She Loves Me
Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m., through Dec. 11
Tickets: FAC members $24 and non-members $26 in advance; $29 at the door. Call 634-5583 or visit csfineartscenter.org.