MORRISBURG – “You made me spend my entire life in a hamburger!” “What am I going to do? I love this place. It’s mine. Nothing was ever mine before!”
This is one of the funniest, and also most poignant moments, in the Upper Canada Playhouse production of Sam Bobrick’s and Ron Clarke’s comedy ‘Wally’s Café.’ Louise, Wally’s wife, has finally had enough of living in an isolated hamburger-shaped little diner on the edge of the desert. And Wally, ever the dreamer, cannot give up on this, his big gamble. And, lucky audiences, we get to share the lives of these two amazing people as they try to make a go of it over nearly 40 years.
Add to the mix waitress Janet – actress, singer, dancer – who would definitely (!) have made it in Hollywood if it “hadn’t been for Bette Davis’s jealousy.” This, of course, explains why she has spent some years working in Wally’s diner waiting on tables, not waiting for limos.
‘Wally’s Café,’ directed by Donnie Bowes, is a play brimful of laughter, filled with exuberance, and blessed with witty dialogue. Sean Free’s clever, single set works perfectly: rapid, but subtle changes let us know that the years are passing. Music and lighting enhance the moods and the decades slipping by.
Frankly, Wally’s Café is an evening of theatre that simply delights.
Wally gambled his and Louise’s life savings on this diner. The two of them have moved from New Jersey to Death Valley, where his venture, to listen to Wally talk, is “gonna be a gold mine.”
Sure Bernie’s Roadhouse just over the dunes may be bringing in all the motoring dining crowds. And yes, Wally’s “famous” roast beef hamburger has failed to attract a single customer – in years. What if the air conditioning involves ice cubes? And maybe the anticipated freeway went somewhere else … Okay, even the coyotes at the door are packing their bags and moving on!
But to spend time with Wally, Louise and Janet, involves an audience enjoying life to the fullest. And sharing in laugh, after laugh, after laugh.
The play unfolds over a number of years, taking Wally’s Café from jive to disco. Running a diner in the desert would be a strain on any marriage (Louise to Wally: “I wish I could be proud of you in a more populated area.”), but through it all, you somehow sense the love that binds these two together. Janet, hitch-hiking her way to Hollywood stardom (after all, she was Miss Iowa Vegetable!) simply lands on their doorstep with all her gear and her dreams. After delivering an impromptu sample of her ‘talent,’ with a rendition of “Red, Red Robin/ Bob, bob, bobbin along” that I swear I will never forget – or the looks on the faces of Wally and Louise! – Janet stays. Later, she will say, “My nicest memories are the three of us together.”
There will be ups and downs, and trials and tribulations, over the years for these three. (Some events are very unexpected, especially after Janet actually does get to Hollywood.) But the energy in this play, and the laughter, never flag. Director Bowes maintains a strong pace, in a play with great one-liners and much physical comedy.
The cast, Sweeney MacArthur as Wally, Kate Egan Veinotte as Louise, Melissa Morris as Janet, is uniformly superb. The actors bring their characters to individual, distinctive life – their quirks, tempers, fancies and failures, and the audience loves them. It is a joy to laugh as they “live life like it’s never been lived before.”
Don’t miss the opportunity to take in this thoroughly hilarious, splendidly acted production at Upper Canada Playhouse. Your heart will be a lot lighter after two hours with Janet, Wally and Louise. “It’s not how far you are from places. It’s how close you are to people.”