Out With The Old, In With The New
Santaland is Gone (for now) but the Waffle Palace is Open All Month at the Horizon

By Lee Valentine Smith

For 19 seasons, the Horizon has featured the quirky Santaland as a holiday tradition. But this year the popular David Sedaris show is on a much-needed hiatus, leaving breathing room for a brand-new production.

Waffle Palace Christmas, a premiere from the shrewd, southern-fried minds of writers Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee, continues the smothered'n'covered saga of the tough little midtown diner, while adding hilarious new events and characters to its history.

With an eight-person cast portraying finely-drawn southern eccentrics, the show stands as a formidable contender for a popular new seasonal favorite at the busy theater. After all, who can resist the grease-stained allure of an all-night diner?

INsite spoke with director Lisa Adler just after the show's opening performance.

Do you think this show will become an annual tradition like Santaland?

I don't know yet, but we are excited to present it and see what happens.

This is an extension of the original Waffle Palace story, correct?

Yes, we'd been talking about doing this for a while. I've known playwrights Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee forever and we've worked together for years. I clip articles about things that interest me. We had Larry in for our young writers' festival. I'd found a great article about the Waffle House and all the crazy things that happen there and the regulars. Larry had happened to save the same story and mentioned it when he was talking about how he came up with story ideas. I said I have that same article! It seemed like it was something we should pursue.

So it was meant to be.

Yeah and he and Eddie have been writing partners since the '70s, so we started workshops and then we did it in 2012 and a big revision in 2013. And the characters began to develop.

There are some very three-dimensional characters in the show.

That's true. We have the owner of the Palace, John who is a bit of an old-school curmudgeon. He didn't intend to spend his whole life there, but he became the owner when his dad passed it on to him. It's really a series of alternative families who bond because they all visit the Waffle Palace.

And though it bears a resemblance to the Waffle House, it's definitely an independent shop.

Yes, it's like the Silver Skillet or any of the old-timey all-night diners. It's basically in the Atlantic Station, midtown Atlanta area. In the original, it was in peril because developers were wanting to buy it to level it for new development. The first story was the little Waffle Palace against the big developers.

So now, it's still there as the development grows around it.

Yes, the whole development has built up around it, leaving it in the middle of all this progress and doing big business from all the nearby people and crazy characters who frequent it. We have an ensemble who play multiple roles. We do have Lala Cochran from the Santaland cast and she's very experienced in this type of comedic production. About half of the cast play multiple roles.

And they're presented as real characters you'd actually meet in an establishment such as the Palace.

We've really tried to keep an Atlanta flavor to it. All these characters are people you might actually find in mid-town Atlanta. We've found that people who like the actual Waffle House and people who enjoyed the original Waffle Palace show cross every age, sex, economic status, everyone enjoys a place like the fictional Palace. And with show, we're getting a great cross-scetion of people who might actually go to an all-night diner or have a sentimental feeling about it. We've had many first-time theater-goes who come and say, I love the Waffle House and I wanted to come see the play and see what it was all about. So we've tried to include characters that everyone can recognize as regulars of the Palace and how it all heads to the future.

Tell us about the evil Krampus, as played by Rob Cleveland.

He's the main antagonist of the play. He's like the anti-Santa from old folklore. Like Santa's evil twin. The story is still popular in Europe but not as popular in America. His goal in the play is to take down the holiday spirit at the Palace. He's reading The Art Of The Deal at the top of the second act, if that gives you an indication of the inspiration. Rob is so good with comedy, he's the highlight of the show in many ways. He gets to interact with the audience and use topical jokes and he's adding something new every night.

It's Atlanta-centric, but can this show be produced in other cities?

Well [co-writer] Eddie has lived in Seattle for the last 20 years. He's from Atlanta and just arrived in town, for the opening of the show and also because Grady High School, which is his alma-mater, is producing the original Waffle Palace. It's such a southern thing, we pushed it out there for a while, but Waffle House is very southern-centric and this show is very Atlanta-themed. It's a very southern institution.

Since you are using the iconic signage reminiscent of the Waffle House, is the company on board with this concept?

Oh they're a sponsor and they've been fantastic. They came to the first readings and they've been so supportive of us. They didn't want to look at the script in advance or anything. In fact, they came to opening night and had a hash-browns station.

When I first heard about the original production, I was wondering if maybe the company had threatened a lawsuit because of potential copyright issues.

The difference here is that the Waffle Palace is an independently owned diner, owned by a person. It doesn't work as a corporate entity. It's the underdog against the big dogs. There's a Waffle House feeling about the set, but it's definitely an independent all-night diner, like the Majestic. I think by keeping it as the Waffle Palace we could refer to it, but we didn't have to be true to it. But it could be like the original Waffle House because when they first started, there wasn't a billion locations.

Even though Santaland is gone, The Horizon is carrying on another tradition with Madeline's Christmas.

It's our eleventh year and it's a totally new design because it was repped with Santaland. The thing about the Waffle set is, everything has to go away and it has to become Madeline's Christmas every day.

That's a lot of work and a lot of people to heard around.

But they're adorable. For Madeline's we have two casts of kids - with professionals in the adult roles - but 24 adorable little girls from all over Georgia. I think it's five counties and twenty schools, just all over the map and they're just as cute as can be.

They're grown up seeing the show, haven't they?

Since we've been doing it for so long, I think almost all of them have been audience members over the years before they auditioned for it. So it's been around 240 girls who've been in the show now. It's a big experience for them and a good legacy to be a part of.

With a nearly a month of performances, that's a lot of potential stage time.

Yes, with a school play, you might get two or three performances. With this, they get 20 performances. That's a lot even for an adult, so it's a great experience. Many of them go on to do other shows and we've had several big professional things come from it as well. So we're still all about tradition here at Horizon.

Waffle Palace Christmas runs through December 30 at the Horizon Theater. Wednesday through Sunday shows are at 8 p.m. with matinee performances on December 6, 13 and 19 at 11 a.m. Visit horizontheater.com for more information.



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