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Dramashop Puts On Their Jammies

Musical Version of ‘She Loves Me’ is Fun and Passionate

By Amandeep Loomba

Staff Writer

She Loves Me

MIT Dramashop

April 10-12 and April 16-18, 8 p.m.

Kresge Little Theater

Stage Direction by Michael Ouellette

Musical Direction by Martin Marks

There is something about the stage that has always inspired in me a sense of discomfort. I suspect it has much to do with the immediacy of the art. As a consumer of so many buffered art forms -- safe, removed interaction with an artist’s thoughts on a page, or screen, or recording -- seeing a performer on stage trying to bear her soul in real time to an audience close enough make their coughs, groans and disparaging marks heard is almost frightening.

Not that I feel theater is an anachronistic medium. An appropriate analogy might compare theater to the world of so-called “extreme” sports, in which half of the watching audience evaluates the quality of the event by the tally of limbs broken. There’s always a tension that keeps me on edge: what if they mess up their lines? They can’t clean those up in the editing room of my mind! That said, I admit that I always relish the tension provided by the MIT Dramashop. In particular, the yearly student-written one-acts are regularly written, acted and directed with brilliance.

In general, it’s always clear that the Dramashop players and production crews throw themselves into their tasks, in typical MIT fashion, with enthusiasm that borders on mania. Your first indicator of this, when you go see their production of the musical She Loves Me this week, will be the remarkable set, impressively detailed and obviously solidly constructed before its practical and efficient dynamism is even revealed to you. Set designer William Fregosi of the Music & Theater Arts department has been working on sets for Dramashop since at least 1975 (according to their web page) so his execution of this task is no great surprise. Scenic artist Fritz Bell also deserves recognition for giving the set pieces a wonderful atmosphere.

This aura of professionalism also extends to the musical accompaniment in the production. Senior Lecturer Martin Marks, the show’s musical director, gives a wonderful performance on his piano, calling to mind the other times I’ve seen him “bridge the gap” between buffered and unbuffered performances, providing live piano accompaniment to The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Steamboat Bill, Jr.. Beside him is violinist Dawn Perlner ’01, an employee of the MIT-affiliated Lincoln Lab, also turning in top-notch accompaniment along with a bit of an active role onstage as a slightly obnoxious restaurant performer.

Where the actual cast performances begin, the professionalism stops. Which is not to say that the performances are not enjoyable or skilled. But with the exception of the role of Ladislav Sipos (played by John Hume, an employee of the MIT libraries), all of the roles are performed by students, and most of the roles are played by undergraduates.

The lead roles are taken up by Daniel J. Katz ’03 as Georg Nowack and Katie Davidson ’04 as Amalia Balash. The story, slight as it is, goes like this: Georg and Amalia, co-workers who are always at one another’s throats, are unknowingly involved in a romantic relationship with one another that develops through a series of anonymous letters sent by post. Will they ever realize that true love has been waiting for them just across the floor of the Budapest parfumerie in which they work? Perhaps -- but if that is the case it will almost certainly take a large handful of peppy songs to get them there.

Katz and Davidson are both engaging and likeable actors. Their onstage chemistry isn’t explosive, but when they finally fall into one another’s arms, their kiss is lascivious enough to raise a few audience eyebrows, which is chemistry enough for my dirty tastes.

Katz is passionate and believable. His role suffers slightly only because of the somewhat nasal nature of his voice (a quality which I appreciate in his other musical performances, but not so much on stage). Davidson brings a chipper soprano to the proceedings, topping off the cast’s modest singing abilities with a serviceable and trained voice. Furthermore, she has exactly the sort of bright voice and accent that might be called “cute” by an uncultured boob.

In supporting roles the show features Hume as an elderly store clerk, Camilo Aladro ’04 as an obsequious two-timer, Pete Chambers G as the store owner with a volatile emotional balance, James Dai G as an over-eager delivery boy and Rydia Vielehr ‘04 as Ilona, a sweet but slightly dim young lady who’s been taken around the block more than a few times.

Singing is not the cast’s strong point, which makes one wonder why a musical was chosen for this semester’s production. Furthermore, the play itself is a bit too O. Henry for my tastes.

She Loves Me, a 1930s play by the Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, was adapted as a musical by Harnick and Bock, the team that later wrote Fiddler on the Roof. The musical version of She Loves Me received its premiere as a musical on Broadway in 1963, the same year in which Hitchcock brought the tortuous paranoia of The Birds to the silver screen. At that time, this sweet little musical about shop clerks in love garnered seven Tony Award nominations. When it was revived in 1994 -- the year Natural Born Killers came out, incidentally -- She Loves Me received no less than sixteen Tony Award nominations.

The current production here at MIT may not be an award-winning affair, but it is certainly an enjoyable one. Despite the few shortcomings of the production, it’s quite clear that all of the people involved are terribly passionate about what they do, and that passion translates into a truly enjoyable show. Unless you’re the sort of person who follows figure skating to watch people fall on the ice, I recommend She Loves Me.