It is easy to fall for a story about a small remote diner when it is performed in a small remote barn theater, especially after a country barbeque. It is easy to open up to the plight of small business owners after you have witnessed producer David Couch oversee food service, transport patrons by golf cart, help the handicapped, perform set changes, and waltz/honor a wedding anniversary to the compromised tuning of an audience chorus. It is easy after such familial hospitality to be completely primed for a feel-good comedy about passing fancy versus lasting love.
What is pleasantly surprising is that such down-home fun is no surrogate for excellent theater. Wally’s Café, the opening show for the 41st season at Circle Bar B, was penned by veteran sitcom writers Sam Bobrick and Ron Clark in the early 1980’s, and rides on the sort of incessant comic banter one might expect from a Get Smart or That Girl rerun. Wally and Louise Murdoch (Sean O’Shea and Jean Hall) have left New Jersey so that Wally can pursue the American Dream of owning his own business. But his kitschy Mojave Desert café is too far off the highway to ever attract real success. A comedic triangle is forged with the arrival of Wally’s first customer, Janet Chester (Tiffany Story), a Hollywood-bound ingénue from Illinois. 46 years and several scenes later, after dreams and desires have faded, the three come to recognize the good that was there all along.
The set’s neon window sign, vintage jukebox and checkered linoleum vividly reproduce diner nostalgia. Although the plot is all in the dialogue, Bob Egan’s direction has the players occupying the set intelligently and naturally. Not only do the actors know how to pace the jokes, they also successfully navigate the fine line between schmaltz and irreverence with regard to the deeper issues of love, loyalty and belonging.