He was a boy. She was a girl. Can I make it any more obvious?
Far from the fabled sk8er boi of Avril Lavigne’s early discography, this young gentleman is named Romeo, a freelance cotillion dance instructor and student on his way to UBC. Anthony Perpuse plays Romeo’s dorky earnestness with grace and wit, and before long, we’re firmly on his side.
And the girl, Bea, maybe isn’t so far off from Avril, a loner with a penchant for crossbow and illicit beers. In edgy Doc Martens, a band tee and haphazardly tied flannel, Bea exudes “cool” — one look and you know her music taste is better than yours. Ericka Leobrera is a natural in the role, sly and self-conscious, with a masterful sense of Bea’s insecurities.
Romeo and Bea, the not-couple situated at the apex of Marie Beath Badian’s sweet-as-can-be, Factory/Blyth Festival world premiere of The Waltz, have a few crucial things in common — a complicated relationship with their respective families, for one. A muddled sense of what it means to be a young Filipino person in Canada, for another. Plus, the two share a sublime teenage awkwardness, manifested in amusing grooming habits and blurted-out thoughts.
Set under the vast prairie skies of Saskatchewan, Badian’s rom-com oozes nostalgia and charm, a ‘90s tale of boy-meets-girl with substance and bite. The play is a sequel to Badian’s Prairie Nurse, which ran at Factory Theatre in 2018 — I lament not having seen it — but it succeeds as a stand-alone play, with lines and context sprinkled in to appeal to audience members who have seen both. Badian knows her way around a flirtationship, and her development of Romeo and Bea, both as a coupled unit and as individuals, is smart and subtle, blossoming into its fullest potential by the second half.
Nina Lee Aquino’s heartfelt direction amplifies Badian’s allusions to Filipino culture, joyfully illustrating customs like the “debut” for young women through the eyes of Romeo and Bea. For the most part, Aquino leaves the play to speak for itself, but some nuances brought to life in collaboration with set and costume designer Jackie Chau make The Waltz shimmer. Small jars surround the central playing space — a porch complete with swing — and create a mosaic of Canadian-Filipino hybridity. In the jars are small tokens of both cultures — flags, small toys, food — and while they’re never directly referenced in Aquino’s staging, they’re a constant reminder of the Filipino and Canadian traditions and experiences which collided to result in Romeo and Bea’s respective births.
Lights by Michelle Ramsay and sound by Lyon Smith further fleshes out Romeo and Bea’s chance meeting; Smith’s navigation of music in particular suggests a lovely reverence for the ‘90s soundscape Romeo and Bea both love. Andrea Mapili’s choreography — crucial in the play’s second half — feels natural in the bodies of Leobrera and Perpuse, and it’s just unsteady enough to feel authentic.
The Waltz is a sweet and simple story unbothered by anything more than its immediate circumstances. Here in the prairies, all that matters is these two Filipino-Canadian youngsters and a secret shared dance. Does Romeo have a long-distance girlfriend? Maybe. Will Romeo and Bea embark on a longer relationship? Who cares? Here, Badian and Aquino have endeavoured to create a single, perfect moment — and they have.
The Waltz runs at Factory Theatre through November 13. Tickets are available here.