She Loves Me: pen pals aren’t so far removed from Tinder

Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer in She Loves Me. Photo supplied by Ruth Wong-Miller.Photo credit: Melanie Lafleur.

Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer in She Loves Me. Photo supplied by Ruth Wong-Miller. Photo credit: Melanie Lafleur.

Do you know that sensation where you’re not sure if you’re attracted to someone or if you hate them? That elementary school-style of relationship is where Foote in the Door‘s production of She Loves Me wants to take you this November 20 – 28.

She Loves Me is one of five adaptations of Miklós Làszló’s play Illatszertáror in English, Parfumerie. “I think everyone out there is looking for a really heartfelt love story, but one that is also filled with some comedy,” says Ruth Wong-Miller, who plays Amalia Balash in this production of She Loves Me, when I ask her why she thinks Làszló’s play has inspired so many adaptations. “It’s that hopeful part of everyone that is looking not just for love, but that happy ending as well. I think his story gets re-adapted over and over because we enjoy the conflict that’s happening within people and when [Amalia and Georg] discover each other, I think that’s such an exciting moment.”

Of the story, Ruth says, “She Loves Me centres around the characters Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack. They meet each other when she comes to get a job at the parfumerie he works at, Maraczek’s Parfumerie, and they don’t like each other at all. They do a lot of fighting, but I think it’s because they are kind of attracted to each other.”

However, the two are each also in a relationship with their “dear friend” (as they say) that they write to, having contacted their romantic pen pals through lonely hearts ads. It turns out though, that each of their “dear friend” is actually the other person – they just don’t know it yet and heartwarming hilarity ensues as they find this out. Surrounding Amalia and Georg (played by Russ Farmer) are other employees of the parfumerie who each have their own stories within the larger story of Amalia and Georg’s relationship.  Ruth says, “In the shop there’s so much that goes on between all of the characters. [One theme] is the interpersonal relationships between people who work together, which I think can be so special. That’s one of the main themes of the show – that relationships may not always be as they seem.”

While the play is set in the 1930s, Ruth says it’s easy to find parallels between the letter-writers looking for love in the 30s and how some people experience online dating today. “The person you meet online – is that the same person you’re going to meet in person?” A lot of people have different online personalities than in-person, and that’s exactly the same idea She Loves Me explores through Amalia and Georg. Ruth says, “We have this one number in the show – it’s really funny, it’s called the letters song and it’s all these people on stage writing people to people from personal ads and they’re saying, ‘I’m tall, I’m thin, I’m rich, I’ll have a monocle when I meet you,’ and there are all these descriptions people write in their letters that may or may not be true. We joke about it in rehearsals, we’re like, ‘Oh, this is like Tinder.’ ”

However, that idea of one person having two different personalities also poses some challenges for the actors, specifically developing a relationship with a character that they’re actually not supposed to know is on stage with them. For Ruth though, she finds she has created a separate character for Amalia’s ‘dear friend’ that comes from a close reading of the play. “She writes to ‘dear friend’ and has a whole different relationship with him through letters and then she meets Georg. Initially she hates him and they fight all the time, but it’s interesting that she starts to fall for him as well and she becomes very much torn between these two guys… In the shop, she gives him a really hard time. They do a lot of fighting in act one. It’s like that elementary school pigtail-pulling teasing and I think they mask that they like each other by hating each other instead. For Georg, he’s in so much shock that his pen pal is Amalia. He shares his deepest thoughts with her in these letters – they both have a love of literature and music and I think he has problems reconciling that with the woman who he works with who is really feisty and doesn’t like him and makes fun of him.”

She Loves Me is a family-friendly, feel-good musical, but doesn’t just focus on the romantic relationship between Amalia and Georg. Ruth says the show explores, “that sense of family that’s not your direct family. There’s definitely a lot of warmth and family feel that happens in the show and I think that’s why it’s so accessible to any age group. I think it’s very family-friendly show because you’ll leave feeling happy and part of the show takes place at Christmas, so there’s some holiday spirit. I think it’ll touch people at the end. Obviously there’s a happy ending and it’s Christmas and who doesn’t like happy endings at Christmas? I think it’ll touch people in a really warm way.”

She Loves Me is produced by Foote in the Door Productions, which was founded by Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer, who met at a workshop at the Foote Theatre School, where Barb Mah – who directs She Loves Me – was their instructor. She Loves Me is Foote in the Door’s first main season production, following two successful Fringe shows in as many years. She Loves Me is under the musical direction of Michael Clark, who has re-arranged the musical’s full orchestral score for the six musicians who will be accompanying the production.

She Loves Me plays at the Campus Saint Jean Auditorium November 20 – 28. Tickets are $24 – $29.50 through Tix on the Square. 

To get you in the mood for She Loves Me, I’ll leave you with the song that Ruth says is her favourite in the show – “Vanilla Ice Cream”. Ruth explains, “For Amalia, this is the song where she discovers she really likes Georg. She’s just had this realization and it’s a turning point in the show. She hasn’t realized that he’s the letter-writer, but she realizes in that moment that they have more in common than they originally thought and that she might care for him.”

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