Waffle Haus Christmas, an original play written by PURE Theatre in-house playwright Rodney Lee Rogers, is a playful take on the classic A Christmas Carol. It unfolds, Rashoman-style, from three unique perspectives. Unsure of what to expect — and receiving no cues from the playbill — I was startled to find the actors standing just inches away from the front row when the lights came up to open the play.
Positioned beneath spotlights, Jimmy (Rogers), a sometimes truck driver and the current Waffle Haus head cook; Sally Ann (Sharon Graci), his tough-talking ex-wife and long-time Waffle Haus waitress; and Bella (Sullivan Graci Hamilton), their introverted, savant teenage daughter (described by her parents as “special”), enthusiastically narrate the happenings of their Christmas Eve spent working at the Waffle Haus.
Inside the intimate black box theater, they confidently break the fourth wall, looking audience members in the eye as they rant and rave, revealing character backgrounds and idiosyncrasies in the process. In PURE Theatre style, the characters are studies of stereotypes seemingly pulled off the streets of South Carolina. From Jimmy’s redneck charm to Sally Ann’s familiarity with the inside of a double-wide, writer Rogers’ characters are well-fleshed out and play comically on the cliché.
Abruptly, the lively chatter stops and the family jumps into a reenactment of the night’s events. The transition is confusing, but we eventually realize that we are watching the story told from Jimmy’s perspective. In Waffle Haus, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future — all played by the malleable Tripp Hamilton — are incarnated by three men each wearing a Santa suit. The ghost of Christmas past, a former cook in love with Sally Ann, is an inebriated foreigner whose ethnicity changes depending on the narrator. The ghost of Christmas present is the restaurant’s cocky, strip-club loving owner who keeps popping in to grab one dollar bills from the register, and the ghost of Christmas future is an aggravated stranger who attempts to rob the place.
The tale is retold two more times, in increasingly colorful recollections, climaxing with Bella’s literary version, replete with British accents and Tommy guns. Graci, who doubles as the director, avoids redundancy by employing blackouts, freeze frames, and slow motion effects. The set is minimal, filled with a few tables of various sizes representing a counter, grill, and dining table. Chalkboards stand in as walls. The bare set accommodates the ever-changing illustration of the night’s events, and enables the audience to form their own complete picture. In the end, the only consistent detail the three can agree on about the events of Christmas Eve is that this family of misfits symbolically came together to beat the crap out of the ghost of Christmas future, the robber.
Some of the jokes are a bit heavy handed, especially when spoken directly to the audience, and the production’s timing could use some fine tuning in certain spots, but these are all low-hanging fruits, which will hopefully be picked as the show’s run continues. Despite the cast being comprised of an actual family — Graci and Rogers are the parents of Tripp Hamilton and Sullivan Graci Hamilton — PURE Theatre cannot be accused of casting nepotism. Each family member is extraordinarily talented, and the acting is strong from start to finish. Bella, who says few lines, but speaks volumes through her facial expressions, never falls out of character, and Graci’s fast-talking Sally Ann maintains spot-on white trash self-assurance throughout. Like its namesake, Waffle Haus may not be a five star meal, but it hits the spot, going down short and sweet.