Saturday, November 24, 2018

Waitress (Atlantis Theatrical)


Small-town waitress and pie baker Jenna (Joanna Ampil) finds out that she is pregnant. What should be a cause for celebration brings about an epiphany that she is not that happy with her life so far. Her husband Earl (George Schulze) is conceited and self-centered and having a child with him is not something she imagined her life would be. Deep inside she has always wanted to pursue her passion for baking. To ensure that she is healthy to carry the baby, she pays the local Ob-Gyn a visit. Dr. Pomatter (Bibo Reyes) is new at the clinic and is immediately smitten with Jenna and her tasty pies. It doesn’t take long until they engage in an extra-marital affair. When she finds out about a big-time pie baking contest, she sees this as an opportunity to leave everything behind and start anew with her soon to be born kid. Can she really escape from her current reality or will she be stuck in an existential crisis forever?

There is something inherently fake about the bricks on the walls of the diner but somehow it works. Perhaps it’s the color combination? Predominantly green, the matching set and costume designs offer some cool visuals for the eyes. Perhaps one lost opportunity is mimicking the gimmick of the Broadway run where they were rumored to bring freshly baked pies in the theater just to stimulate the audience’s nostrils. Given the intimate nature of the Carlos P. Romulo auditorium, this would have elevated the audience impact of the production even more.

You know you are in good hands when you see the name of a Miss Saigon alumna on the cast list. Ampil never disappoints and her pipes always deliver. She proves that she is still one of Philippine theater’s best singers. Her heartfelt rendition of She Used to Be Mine is the highlight of Jenna’s character arc, reminding us that we all get lost in life at one point but once you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go but up. She doesn’t share that much chemistry with Reyes, though.

Reyes made his breakthrough in Ang Huling El Bimbo. Here he gets to try another character. In terms of vocals, he sings very well and is not overpowered by Ampil in their duets. Give him some more projects and he could very well be theater’s next golden boy. Bituin Escalante as Becky and Maronne Cruz as Dawn offer Ampil solid support and it’s always fun to see all three of them exchanging snappy banter onstage. It’s as if the three had already been friends for a long time based on their rapport.

The thing about Waitress is that it can be controversial depending on who is watching. Is this musical condoning or condemning extra-martial affairs? Neither? Both? In the end, a choice is clearly made but it just feels a bit calculated and safe. Or maybe we are just fans of intrigue and controversy? Nevertheless, Jenna’s struggle is so damn relatable that you don’t really need to engage in an affair to share some empathy. While circumstances may differ, we all go through such rough patches once in a while.

But perhaps Waitress’ biggest draw is how it tells you that everyone can start fresh. Sometimes the apprehensions that we have regarding our life situation is nothing more but an echo of our self doubt or our fear of the unknown. When you realize that no one is holding you back from choosing a new path in life but yourself, that’s when the pieces start to fall into place. And of course, if you have a freshly baked pie for dessert, that makes it even more worth while.

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