A Factory production in partnership with Blyth Festival
Late one summer afternoon in 1993, Romeo Alvarez (Anthony Perpuse) drives up to a lonely cabin in the Saskatchewan plains. In a gag that plays out repeatedly, he struggles comically with two cumbersome handfuls of luggage—including a boom box that’ll figure prominently. He is greeted by Beatrice Klassen (Ericka Leobrera), a young woman in a Nirvana T-shirt, aiming a cross-bow at him with undisguised suspicion.
The Waltz, playwright Marie Beath Badian’s follow-up to her hit Prairie Nurse, takes place two decades later and features the gradual, prickly connection between two Filipino-Canadian teenagers. Their story highlights the immigrant experience as they open up about their extended family and ample teenage angst.
Romeo is in the middle of a cross-country trip to university, making stops along the way to meet his mother’s old friends. I could sense their parents’ history lurking at the fringes. I am not familiar with Prairie Nurse, but I imagine there are references here that’ll register more intensely for those who know that story. (This video re-cap of Prairie Nurse isn’t necessarily helpful in this regard, but it does serve as an amusing enticement for that play; the farcical entanglements sound like my jam!)
From the moment he bounds onto the stage with guileless enthusiasm, Perpuse is endearing. His Romeo is a persistent goofball. While hyping himself up, he gradually pulls Beatrice out of her resentful funk. Leobrera, a great moody foil for Perpuse, has a knack for punchy one-liners. Though guarded, she lets us know Beatrice is genuinely intrigued by him.
Their conversation is fluid and amusing, though the banter feels performative. The energy and chemistry are there, but the delivery hits sit-com beats that often fell flat for me. They seemed to work for most of the audience. People were really digging the vibe.
Nina Lee Aquino’s productions often negotiate an electric space between naturalism and poetry. In her theatre, real people inhabit environments that seem mundane and ordinary, but contain playful and expressionistic flourishes. Here, though, the action features some stagey posturing and the set feels more utilitarian than evocative.
The vast, impressive beams of designer Jackie Chau’s cabin give way to random Canadiana in sealed glass jars. Each displayed prominently on a tree stump—a Campbell’s soup can, a miniature hockey stick—their presence was more distracting than lyrical.
Though Michelle Ramsay’s lighting slowly intensifies the orange, I never really believed either of the actors was seeing a spectacular Saskatchewan sunset. The sudden magic realism that punctuates a charged, romantic moment also feels jarring.
Having a Filipino partner, I was familiar with some of the cultural references. This advantage certainly isn’t necessary. Their interaction contains enough context to reach a wide, general audience. And there are plenty of Scarborough and 90s references that also resonate.
The 90s props in particular pop with nostalgic intensity. The hair reveal is pretty epic. And I’m a big fan of Romeo’s cringe-swoon dance moves. Shout out to choreographer Andrea Mapili for that hilarious spectacle.
Conceptually, The Waltz reminded me of a Canadian theatre classic: Salt-Water Moon. This feels modelled on David French’s bittersweet two-hander—estranged teenagers, contending with a fraught family history, gradually warming to each other, a potential future together glimpsed in a poignant final moment.
I like the idea of this more than the execution; though, if the rest of the audience was any indication, I am an outlier.