But in Act 2, something magical happens. The forced feeling disappears, and glimmers of Shakespearean farce and the playful alchemy of Sarah Ruhl emerge from spew of cheap laughs. (Theater-goers may also recognize traces of “Superior Donuts,” Tracy Letts’ most gentle play, which Horizon produced last year.)
While King and Allan Edwards are uniformly good throughout the show, Eric Mendenhall’s nebbish, unemployable Ralphie, his Waffle Fact Man, and his drag queen Vivien are superb. This actor is one of Atlanta's top comedians. LaLa Cochran is not bad, either. Her turn as Castle, the Little Red Riding Hood meets Joan Crawford she-devil developer, is a delight.
On the design side, Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay contribute a wonderful approximation of a waffle joint (yellow vinyl booths, grease-splattered kitchen, plastic menus). Their costumes, from camouflage to wedding gowns, are pretty amazing, too.
As directed by Lisa and Jeff Adler, the play waffles between scrambled mess and indelible zaniness. Themes of May-September romance and neighborhoods disappearing in the name of progress are hardly original. Where "Waffle House" really pops is in the ridiculousness of its characters.
When Ralphie orders his eggs, he tries to explain to Esperanza that he wants them shirred, not scrambled. That’s kind of how I feel about the “Waffle Palace. ” It needs a delicate and sensitive hand, a little more time in the toaster, before it truly nourishes the heart.
“The Waffle Palace: Smothered, Covered & Scattered 24/7/365”
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays. 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays. 5 p.m. Sundays. Through July 1. $20-$40. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave., Atlanta. 404-584-7450; horizontheatre.com
Bottom line: More fizzle than sizzle.