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June 25, 2010

TT: In love with She Loves Me

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column I report on two more shows from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, She Loves Me and The Merchant of Venice. I was thrilled by one but didn't warm up to the other. Here's an excerpt.

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osf-shelovesmejpg-379c11793bfff101_medium.jpgFor a cult show, "She Loves Me" sure gets done a lot. I know of two revivals taking place this year, one which closed last month at Connecticut's Westport Country Playhouse and another that runs through October at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I expect there are others of which I haven't heard. I trust they're all worthy, but the OSF production of "She Loves Me," directed by Rebecca Taichman, is special in every way, a near-flawless realization of one of the most delightful musicals of the 20th century.

First seen on Broadway in 1963, "She Loves Me" is based on "The Shop Around the Corner," Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 screen version of "Parfumerie," a Miklós Laszló stage comedy that was later filmed as "In the Good Old Summertime" and "You've Got Mail." The setting is prewar Budapest and the plot is a clockwork farce: Amalia and Georg, two love-starved members of what used to be called a "lonelyhearts club," are sending each another anonymous mash notes without ever having met....

The word "endearing" can sound saccharine, but it fits "She Loves Me" as tightly as the skin on an apple, and one reason why this revival is so easy to love is the way in which it is cast. Instead of picking a pair of pretty-pretty stars, Ms. Taichman has gone in a different direction: Georg is played by Mark Bedard, who is balding, bespectacled and sharp-faced, while Lisa McCormick, who plays Amalia, is an eagerly fluttering sparrow who is charming but not glamorous. You don't have to strain to see the two of them as a pair of wallflowers who make each other blossom....

Ms. Taichman is best known to New York theatergoers for her staging of the 2007 Off Broadway premiere of Theresa Rebeck's "The Scene." I had no idea that she would be similarly adept in musical comedy, but her collaboration with choreographer John Carrafa (who staged the musical numbers for the original production of "Urinetown") is seamless and scintillating. Songs and dialogue are woven together indissolubly, and each scene is played not for laughs but for truth--which means that the laughter comes from the heart....

Everybody wants to do "The Merchant of Venice," but few directors are prepared to grapple forthrightly with the play's gnarly side. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new production, staged by Bill Rauch and performed in the company's Elizabethan-style outdoor theater, leaves nothing to be desired in this respect: It abounds with racial stereotypes, all of which are presented unapologetically. The staging is full of sharp comic twists, and one of the performances, that of Anthony Heald as Shylock, is impressively pointed and lively. Yet the divine spark is missing...

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted June 25, 2010 12:00 AM

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