Oregon Cabaret Theatre has had a successful 2017, with a focus on lighthearted, up-tempo productions that — with the exception of "Baskerville" — have been showcases for gee-whiz, '50s-style dance numbers and rollicking romances between square-jawed young men and dewy-eyed ingenues. As a result, the house has been reliably packed with patrons, and I would wager that OCT is having its best year ever.
"She Loves Me," the third adaptation of the 1930s Hungarian play, "Parfumerie," may also be recognizable to some as the stage version of what would become "You've Got Mail," the popular 1998 romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. A genuinely sweet story of love and letters, the play is set at Maraczek's Parfumerie, a high-end beauty shop for the ladies who lunch.
In the store are a group of salespeople played by various members of OCT's talent-rich stable, and the story leads us into the life of each — their various romances, breakups, triumphs and disappointments. The spotlight falls predominantly on Georg Nowack (Patrick Massey) and Amelia Balash (Lauren Elizabeth Wright), who work together in the parfumerie, and dislike each other intensely, unaware of the fact that they are corresponding under pseudonyms by mail, and are unwittingly enamored — albeit on paper.
As Georg, Patrick Massey is a gifted and hilarious leading man with a gift for physical comedy and a handsome face that turns reliably to rubber in his more comic moments. As Amelia, Lauren Elizabeth Wright is a delightful addition to the Cabaret family, a bright and intuitive triple-threat New York-based actor with an astonishingly strong singing voice. The two do well enough together onstage, although it might benefit them to explore a more tender dynamic when it comes to their love scenes; opening night found both actors highly amusing in their combative moments, if a little wooden when romance does finally strike.
Supporting cast members, made up mostly of longtime Cabaret collaborators, are excellent. As Ladislav Sipos, a portly and empathetic staff member, Nathan Monks is among the most endearing members of the ensemble. In his role as Steven Kodaly, Tony Carter is at his roguish best, bouncing between women and charming the pants off of the various upper-crust clients at the perfume counter. Watch Carter when he is in pantomime as a background actor during other people's scenes. He's particularly hilarious in his silent interactions with ensemble player Kristen Calvin, who is herself superb as a sniffing, preening, priggish housewife.
As Ilona Ritter, Mimi Klipstine is another actor with chops to spare and lungs like Caruso, delivering a Bette Midler-esque bravura performance as an aging shop-girl with a heart of gold. Leah Kolb, Haley Forsyth and Peter Wickliffe flesh out the supporting cast with aplomb; Wickliffe, in particular, as an old-school maitre d' bistro, is spot on with his hawkish inquisitiveness and curled lip.
One of the peculiar pleasures of the reviewing business is to watch how the passage of time shapes and grows artists over the years. This fine production is book-ended by two wonderful performances.
As Mr. Maraczek, John Lambie — a veteran actor, director and drama teacher with decades of theater experience under his belt — delivers a sweet and pathos-filled performance as the chief protector of the assembled brood. Maraczek is the tragic figure of the play, a complicated man with marital problems and a selfless streak that seems to benefit everyone but himself. Lambie obviously loves his work, and it's touching to watch him engage a stage full of younger performers with the full range of an actor with a long, strong professional history.
Speaking of young performers, "She Loves Me" marks the first time that Reese Rush — an artist who has been making the rounds in the Rogue Valley, particularly at Camelot Theatre and at the Collaborative Theatre Project — appears on stage at Oregon Cabaret, where he has previously understudied. As Arpad Laszlo, the fresh-faced and enthusiastic delivery boy for Maraczek's, Rush is a delight. His vigor, humor, and enthusiasm are contagious as he bounds around the stage in pageboy cap and knee socks. Each appearance on stage from Rush comes with the zeal of some latter-day Arthurian herald.
Written by Joe Masteroff and Jerry Bock, "She Loves Me" at Oregon Cabaret Theatre is another winner in a long string of successful shows for the company, which continues to move from strength to strength under the steady leadership of Valerie Rachelle and Rick Robinson. It's the perfect aperitif for the upcoming holiday season.
"She Loves Me runs" through Dec. 31 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, 241 Hargadine St., Ashland.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.