THE WALTZ by Marie Beath Badian (Factory Theatre/Blyth Festival). Runs at the Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst) until November 13. $10-$60. factorytheatre.ca. Rating: NNNN
Marie Beath Badian’s warm-hearted play The Waltz is a sequel to her 2018 comedy Prairie Nurse. But if you missed that earlier work, don’t worry. This two-hander succeeds beautifully as a stand-alone show. Badian is currently penning a third and final play in her Prairie Nurse cycle, called The Cottage Guest. Let’s hope after that one comes out – it’s commissioned by the Blyth Festival – all three will soon be up and running somewhere in rep.
The set-up for The Waltz is simple. It’s 1993, and Scarborough-born teen Romeo (Anthony Perpuse) is driving across the country to begin his first year at UBC. His mother has told him to look up some people she knew when she worked in a small Saskatchewan town as a nurse in the 1960s. But all he can find at the out-of-the-way address he’s scribbled down (insert hilarious joke about concession roads and rural routes) is Bea (Ericka Leobrera), a sullen, crossbow-wielding renegade in a Nirvana T-shirt who wants him Off. The. Property. Now.
It’s a classic meet-cute, compounded by the fact that Romeo is carrying all his possessions with him (why didn’t he just leave them locked in his car?). Soon he shares a photo and a letter, and Bea grudgingly puts down that crossbow and offers him some tea. Eventually they open up about their lives; Romeo has just graduated from his racially diverse high school, where he was very popular, while Bea, it’s suggested, feels out of place as one of the only non-white students in her small prairie town school, and is overshadowed by her over-achieving, athletic older sister.
And this is where The Waltz finds its groove: exploring the layered lives of second-generation Filipino immigrants in two very different regions. Bea’s life is complicated by the fact that her dad (Wilf in Prairie Nurse) is Caucasian, and so when she recounts a story about visiting the Philippines for the first time and hearing her father addressed by strangers as “Joe,” for G.I. Joe, she realizes how he must have felt just as out-of-place there as she does in the prairies. Romeo, meanwhile, wants to get as far away from his family – especially his stern father – as possible, while still qualifying for OSAP.
Badian has a great ear for pop culture; Bea’s dig that Romeo’s middle-parted hair and baggy wardrobe (costumes are by Jackie Chau) make him look like he’s on The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air gets a big laugh. There are also lots of Toronto-centric gags, like how you properly pronounce the city’s name and the ease with which you can get into U of T’s Scarborough campus. One quibble; expressions like “It is what it is” and side hustle” definitely weren’t around in 1993.
Director Nina Lee Aquino gets rich, warm performances from the two actors, who perform the will-they-or-won’t-they dance familiar to most romantic comedies with humour and heart.
Lee Aquino moves the action along gracefully on Chau’s minimal but cold-looking set. The way she pinpoints specific moments in the pair’s evolving relationship – thanks to Michelle Ramsay’s lighting and Lyon Smith’s sound design – has a touch of magic to it. As Bea’s defences come down (thanks, in part, to a few beers) and the afternoon darkens, the mood changes appropriately.
And the play’s use of music and dance – aided by an old-school boom box – is inspired. Andrea Mapili’s choreography is alternately hilarious and touching.
It’s hard not to think of David French’s classic romantic two-hander, Salt-Water Moon, which received a luminous revival in this same space several seasons ago. There are even lit jars strewn across the stage that call to mind the design from that earlier show.
While the play lacks a proper ending, the production casts such a warm glow, and the actors exude such genuine chemistry, that it doesn’t matter. You’ll leave the theatre with your heart full, humming a few tunes. Take this Waltz – and embrace it.