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Love is in the air at Hale Centre Theatre’s letter-perfect ‘She Loves Me’

By Emily Edmonds

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2014 5:05 p.m. MDT

David Smith as Georg Nowack and Rachel Woodward Hansen as Amalia Balash in Hale Centre Theatre's production of "She Loves Me," which runs through Sept. 27.

Hale Centre Theatre

“SHE LOVES ME,” through Sept. 27, Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City (801-984-9000 or hct.org), running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (including one intermission)

WEST VALLEY CITY — There’s a fine line between love and hate.

It's so thin that sometimes it’s hard to know when it's crossed, even when it’s obvious to everyone else.

Hale Centre Theatre’s latest musical, “She Loves Me,” shares the story of Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash. The two have been penning letters since Georg placed a “lonely hearts” ad in the newspaper. (After all, it’s the 1930s and Match.com is a good 60 years from launching.)

Their written exchanges, which always start with a “Dear friend” salutation, are the highlights of their lives. But when they meet — both unaware the other is their doting pen pal — their dialogue isn’t so pleasant.

Their face-to-face relationship begins when Amalia marches into Maraczek’s Perfumery where Georg is manager, petitioning for a job. Georg immediately shoots Amalia down, but when she showcases her sales skills in front of the owner, Mr. Maraczek hires her on the spot.

Even though their relationship is perfect on paper, their real-life association is rocky. Georg blames Amalia for the bad vibes he is getting from Mr. Maraczek at work. It doesn’t help that Amalia has no problem arguing with or criticizing Georg. But to their co-workers, it’s clear that the tension between the two is a deep-seated crush.

David Smith and Rachel Woodward Hansen star as the letter-writers in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast. The actors create lovable characters who easily convey the twitterpation and self-doubt that accompanies blossoming relationships.

When the pen pals decide to meet, Georg gains the upper hand when Amalia beats him to their meeting place — a romantic cafe — and he sneaks a peek through a window, realizing the identity of his dear friend is his frustrating co-worker.

So he does what any confused guy would do: He messes with her.

As the rest of the show unfolds, Georg and Amalia sort out their feelings alongside other characters who are trying to make sense of their own relationships and roles.

Suzie Jacobsen Balser (T/T/S) steps into the part of Ilona Ritter, who is wrestling with her hot-and-cold status with co-worker Steven Kodaly, played by Benjamin J. Henderson (T/T/S). Ladislov Sipos, played by Nick Grossaint (T/T/S), is a bumbling clerk and self-proclaimed idiot who, in reality, deserves more credit than he gives himself.

The costumes and props for this production, set in Budapest, have a charming European feel. The perfumery where most of the story plays out is dripping with chandeliers and trinkets. The cafe scene in particular is a feast of activity and is well executed by the energetic cast.

There are some serious subjects woven into the show. When Mr. Maraczek, played by Zac Zumbrunnen (T/T/S), learns his wife is having an affair, he attempts suicide offstage. His recovery in the hospital is quite upbeat, however, despite the gravity of the situation.

The musical is also full of cheerful songs. One of the most clever tunes, “Sounds While Selling,” occurs early in the first act and is a hodgepodge of conversations in the perfumery. Another endearing number, the show’s namesake “She Loves Me,” comes from Georg in the second act and conveys his excitement knowing that Amalia cares for him — or at least his “dear friend” persona.

“She Loves Me” is a letter-perfect look at the times when loathing turns into love, even if it happens one piece of snail mail at a time.

Sensitivity rating: one swear word, social drinking and some thematic elements.

Emily Edmonds is an online communications instructor for BYU-Idaho. She is the former editor of BYU's Marriott Alumni Magazine and a contributor to Family Circle magazine. She has a bachelor's in journalism and a master's in communications from BYU.

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