Sugar, butter, flour: Waitress review

waitressUsually when I write reviews, it’s about books. After reflecting on my manifesto, I opted to try my hand at theater review. I had the pleasure of seeing The Waitress by Sara Bareilles starring Stephanie Torns as Jenna and Jason Mraz as Dr. Pomatter. I like to be surprised by shows, so I steered clear of spoilers before seeing the musical (including the book and movie, but I couldn’t resist listening to some music). I expected to see a show about an affair, but was surprised by themes of survival, motherhood, and resilience.

Jenna is a waitress (well, you probably guessed that) who seeks solace from her abusive marriage in baking pies. She and her friends/fellow waitresses Dawn and Becky help one another navigate life and marriage: Dawn’s OK Cupid relationship, Becky’s affair, and Jenna’s unplanned pregnancy. The friendship between the girls strengthens as they struggle to find happens. Jenna compares her friendship with Becky to an affair, to which Becky replies:

Honey, this isn’t an affair. I’m in this for life.

Things heat up when Jenna goes to see her gynecologist to confirm the pregnancy. She’s hiding the pregnancy from her husband Earl out of fear. When Dr. Pomatter shows more interest in Jenna and her child than her husband, Jenna can’t resist. Her affair with Dr. Pomatter is her first step toward reclaiming her life from her the control of her husband.

The most popular song is “She Used to Mine.” The song confused me when I heard it outside of the context of the plot, but it perfectly sums up what I believe Sara Bareilles wanted the audience to learn about abusive relationships:

She is messy, but she’s kind
She is lonely most of the time
She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie
She is gone, but she used to be mine
Can you tell I was excited?

Jenna sings contemplating the piece of self she lost to her husband’s controlling nature. Earl is a textbook abuser: he controls her access to her own income, makes her promise to love him more than her baby, and at times becomes physically abusive. There were several scenes in which abuse, specifically physical abuse, seemed to be toned down in order maintain the fun, bubbly Broadway experience. The reality and pain of abuse was lost in these moments, but the focus on Jenna’s resilience revived the show’s claim to empowerment (although that’s up to audience discretion).

The song “Contraction Ballet” highlighted dance, light, and breath in ways that portrayed a painful birth but also a beautiful performance. Dance adds to the experience of the songs, but it’s just not the same to listen to on Spotify knowing the movement that engenders an entirely new theatrical experience. Once little Lulu is born, Jenna doesn’t waste any more time; she begins to build a new life for herself and her daughter.
I highly recommend listening to the music or seeing the show if you get a chance. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Most importantly, you’ll contemplate if you’re happy enough or really, truly happy.

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