BY SUZI BROZMAN / AJT//
Ever heard the phrase “smothered, covered and scattered”? If so, then you’re ready to head for the Horizon Theatre for its encore presentation of “The Waffle Palace.”
Even if you’re not acquainted with the unique Southern institution that is Waffle House, you’ll probably enjoy this slice of Atlanta life, served up with humor, pathos and a big helping of self-directed insights. I’m happy to report that the play manages to be both hilarious and sad and comes with a side of serious drama.
“From births to marriages, to police chases and lottery wins, anything can happen at 3 a.m. in the Waffle Palace.”
That’s the official take offered up in a press release, which goes on to say that the play is inspired by real-life events and that the play’s writers let loose with a roller coaster of humor and imagination in which character John Pickett and his staff battle to keep their Midtown diner open against heavy odds.
When the play first opened, executives at the real Waffle House were concerned – what image would the show convey? They must have been relieved when they saw it, because the Waffle House is a corporate sponsor of this new production.
That’s not to say that life in the “Waffle Palace” is a bed of roses, though; the staff and regular customers could generously be called “loony.” I can’t tell you how closely they reflect real customers of the all-night breakfast house, but I loved every second they spent onstage.
If I knew I would find the genuine thing, I might even venture out at 3 a.m. That’s the witching hour when most of the action takes place in the play, and it might be fun to visit, observe and have a waffle (although I don’t think there’s a kosher Waffle House to be found).
“What fascinated me is the sense of family,” said playwright Eddie Levi Lee. “When I go in, I really feel welcome. I belong. I leave a big tip because I feel obligated…they’re family.”
Lee explained that he and his co-author, Larry Larson, talked about the characters and then let them write the play.
“It’s about what family is and the different forms it can take, no matter how strange, how eccentric,” Lee said. “They can be included and loved in that family. Waffle House is an accepting place in the true sense of the word.”
Seven actors play a total of 27 parts, with three playing only one part and the other four playing three or four parts each. And what parts they are: from a Nicaraguan immigrant named Esperanza Bernstein, to a couple of deer hunters who find Bigfoot while they’re out illegally hunting; a preacher wannabe; and the Palace’s owner, who can’t
give in and sell his property no matter how bad business is.
The focus of the “plot” is that same owner’s struggle to keep the restaurant afloat, but that storyline is almost superfluous. The play could hold its own as a variety of straight scenes, musical interludes and comedic bits coming in quick succession.
For instance: There’s the drag queen that ends up leading the whole cast in a rousing chorus of one of the gospel tunes of his childhood.
Then, there’s the Nicaraguan Christian (with some claim to Jewish blood), who’s the only person who has a Jewish song to share when the crew discovers that the funeral they’re conducting is for a Jewish woman who ate bacon everyday.
I won’t spoil the scene by telling you what they sing; you’ll have to experience that for yourself.
Meanwhile, the Devil comes down to Georgia to tempt the owner (played perfectly by Larson) into selling the diner. Also worth mentioning is the bit with a very upscale couple – a perfect parody of Buckhead gentry – that had me crying with laughter.
In fact, all the characters are filled with enough truth to be believable – but at the same time, they all manage to be way over-the-top.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of folk philosophy nuggets available for the taking: “Change is inevitable,” “You can’t take the good changes without the bad” and – in a more liberal twist – “A $4 breakfast is like a $10 whore. You’ve got to be scared what you’re going to get.”
What you get in this two-hour show is a slice of life – not perhaps as you live it or even witness it, but real nonetheless. There’s both humor and distress to be found. As Eddie Levi Lee puts it:
“There’s heightened realism – sometimes magic. I don’t think we’ve written a play that’s more fun than this.”
Lee truly likes Waffle House. He thinks it’s a special place.
“I like going there,” he said. “There’s some pretty off-the-wall humor, but the show is about people coming together and staying together.”
I have to agree. Director Lisa Adler – who, with Jeff Adler, is also the theatre’s co-founder and co-artistic/producing director – has directed the play with a feather-light touch, allowing real life to happen on stage. She keeps it funny enough to engage the audience both with laughter and song (and yes, the audience does sing along).
By the way, “smothered, covered and scattered” refers to three of the many ways hash brown potatoes are served at Waffle House. If you haven’t tried them, they’re a real trip.
Stop in for some with a waffle on your way to see the show!
For additional information, or to purchase tickets, call the Horizon Theatre at (404) 584-7450 or visit horizontheatre.com.