REVIEW BY RORY ANDREWS
It’s no secret that The Highland Arts Theatre is in the business of pushing the envelope of what local drama can be on Cape Breton Island. Recent past productions have included a dark comedy involving kidnapping and suicide, a dystopian sci-fi drama starring a psychopathic judge, jury, and executioner, and a musical exploration of a mother’s descent into madness. These plays have explored the darker and mysterious side of the human experience, but here’s the thing: don’t you just want to sing and dance sometimes?
She Loves Me is the Highland Arts latest, yet classic, romantic comedy production, playing from November 22nd to the 26th, and was written and designed with the full intention of sharing love and preparing its audience for the oncoming deluge of the Christmas spirit.
The story of She Loves Me is one you’ve probably heard before: two young professionals work in the same shop, are constantly bickering within an unhealthy work environment, but are secretly in love with each other through anonymous letters from a pen-pal dating service. It’s no coincidence that this story is probably familiar to you. She Loves Me was written by Joe Masteroff and first performed on Broadway in 1963, but is actually the third adaptation of the 1937 play Perfumerie, which has been adapted into two plays and three movies, the latest being 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail”. It seems there will be no end to the tale of the bickering anonymous lovers.
The first spectacle of She Loves Me actually strikes you even before the play begins. As you enter the Highland Arts Theatre, you will be greeted by what is perhaps the most intricate set design of any play hosted by the theatre. Kayla Cormier and her set building team constructed a full perfumerie facade, complete with stained-glass windows and artisan french doors. The staging becomes even more visually impressive once you discover that the entire set is modular, designed to turn 180 degrees to reveal the fully adorned interior of an early 20th century perfume shop.
The weight and stakes of any great romantic comedy ultimately depends on the relationship of its two main leads. In She Loves Me, this takes the form of Katherine Woodford’s resourceful and headstrong Amalia Balash, and Wesley Colford’s ambitious and amiable Georg Nowack. She Loves Me solidifies Woodford’s title as Cape Breton’s resident Disney Princess, as her adorable eccentricities are only matched by the pitch of the notes she hits. Katherine lends a certain amount of professionalism to any role, and I would think her voice was overproduced if it weren’t for the fact that it was live, and just that clean. Adding to her harmonies is Colford, whose voice and performance builds the main conflict of the story, and forces the audience to want these two protagonists to fall in love.
She Loves Me also had its fair share of memorable supporting characters with stand-out performances. Stephanie Hennessy’s Ilona Ritter is the perfect complement to Mark Delany’s Steven Kodaly. These two performers are cartoon characters somehow brought to life, whose large, sweeping, and confident movements create a comedic melodrama perfect for the style and tenor of She Loves Me. Their expressions are somehow completely readable from the farthest balcony seating, and their bodily intentions easily discernible to anybody past the age of 5. Also, Mark has a moustache, which is a joke that requires no punchline.
Making a splash on the Cape Breton theatre scene in his first-ever production is Dane Pederson, playing the lovable delivery boy Arpad Laszlo. It’s always nice to see young blood enter the scene, and Dane’s performance is instantly likeable, innocent, and honest. During his solo of the night, Dane let out a giggle when jumping on his fictional employers bed, which let’s me know one of the most important aspects regarding any actor; they are having fun. I’m not the only one looking forward to seeing Dane in more productions to come.
Rounding out the strong cast is Chris Corbett’s loveable oaf of a salesman Ladislav, Dave Petrie’s harsh yet sympathic shop owner Mr. Maraczek, head waiter of a restaurant built for affairs Andy Gouthro, and Rob Bowden’s mysterious private detective, Mr. Keller.
Barb Stetter returns to the backstage orchestra as The HAT’s resident conductor, bringing a sharp and steady soundtrack to fill out the solid vocals. The inclusion of a violin into Barb’s usual orchestra is a nice touch, and lends to the early 20th century french atmosphere.
As the nights become darker, and the air becomes crisper, She Loves Me delivers the type of warmth that only live theatre can.
Directed by Wesley Colford, She Loves Me plays through November 26th.
Tickets are $40 and selling out fast.