Magnificent performances deliver the funny, relevant, and empowering heart that lies in Atlantis Theatrical Production’s staging of ‘Waitress.’ Joanna Ampil leads a powerhouse cast through the musical with songs by Sara Bareilles, a book by Jessie Nelson, and based on the film by Adrienne Shelly. ‘Waitress’ tells the story of Jenna, a waitress in Joe’s Pie Diner, who is in a difficult, abusive marriage with Earl, and finds comfort with her friends and co-workers Dawn and Becky, and with baking pies for the diner.
At the very center of ‘Waitress’ is a beautiful story of women empowerment, set in a rural town in the American South, in the sort of place where one can find happiness is to either accept the lot you’ve been handed in life or to get out of town. The setting is crucial as it implies the oppressive patriarchal mindset of such rural towns, where men expect their women to take care of them, and the lack of available choices limit a woman’s chance to find happiness in her own terms.
It’s why Jenna finds solace in baking. It’s the only way she can dream, just like her mother did, and it’s the only place where she is in control. The symbolism of baking is not lost in the play. It is an exact science — proper measurements are a necessity — and Jenna is a wizard at experimenting and creating delicious pies from a variety of different ingredients that somehow relate to her life and what goes on around her.
‘Waitress’ is a gorgeous and funny story of amazing women — Jenna, Dawn, and Becky — and how they navigate through life and love in a small town. One of the most prevalent themes that comes to the fore is that of infidelity, when Jenna finds that she is pregnant and sparks are ignited between herself and her gynecologist, the young, handsome, and new-in-town Dr. Pomatter.
There's a coming pregnancy that she is not so thrilled about, a blossoming but illicit affair that will complicate an already difficult marriage, and a sliver of hope of getting out of town through a pie competition with a prize money large enough to get away and start over.
What’s amazing about this show is that it elegantly juggles its comedic elements with how it tackles the deeper and darker themes of disillusionment and the feelings of being trapped. On one hand, the play is really funny and tongue-in-cheek, especially in the first act. It makes Jenna’s feeling of being trapped almost digestible, her abusive and loveless relationship with Earl palatable, the possibility of her affair acceptable, and the fact that she doesn’t want her baby as anything but monstrous.
But as the play unfolds, all the little nuances and layers of these very real and very prevalent problems become more and more unacceptable as Joanna Ampil takes each song and brings the character’s inner life out into the audience for us to feel. Sara Bareilles’ beautiful songs are heartfelt and uncomplicated, and they are catchy and can be imbued with so much emotion.
And each member of the cast really brings out the full emotional weight of their characters with their numbers. Joanna Ampil hits a homerun with each song, Maronne Cruz is absolutely delightful as the quirky Dawn, and Bituin Escalante is a showstopper as the wise-cracking, wiser, and tougher Becky. Even the supporting cast, the men, are incredible from George Schulze’s portrayal of Earl, to Steven Conde’s grumpy Joe, and Bibo Reyes’ hilarious and loveable turn as Dr. Pomatter.
While the dancing and the movements weren’t that integral or elevated, the material and the band has a tendency to overpower the singers (or maybe it’s because I was seated really near the orchestra), ‘Waitress’ managed to pull the rug from under me. I was laughing and enjoying the narrative and then it came from nowhere and struck in the chest at the very end when it takes a complete 180 degree turn and shifted from light to emotionally profound at its finale. I was fighting back the tears.
If there’s anything to be said about this production is that it went fully committed to the whimsy and the humour, but still carried with it all the emotional weight of its rather relevant and powerful themes about coming into your own and finding your own strength. It does not have an easy way out and through the songs and the brilliant performances, Atlantis Theatrical Productions’ staging of ‘Waitress’ serves up a dish that is so enjoyable and so full of heart that you’re going to come out full and wanting more.
'Waitress' runs until December 2, 2018, at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, 4th Floor, RCBC Plaza, Ayala corner Gil Puyat Avenues, Makati. Ticket prices are as follows: P4,000/Price Zone 1, P3,000/Price Zone 2, P2,000/Price Zone 3. For bookings, contact TicketWorld at +632- 891-9999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.