The Spitfire Grill
At SBCC, Friday, March 10. Shows through March 25.
“Now it’s time to start again,” sings Percy Talbot, as she takes a bus to Gilead, Wisconsin, to begin a new life. After being released from prison, she heads for a town she chose based on an idyllic photo in a magazine. Gilead, however, is not what she’s conjured up in her dreams; it’s a dead-end place, but Percy still finds that life has meaning. In this heartfelt play, adapted from the 1996 film of the same name, it is not only Percy who is transformed, but the Gilead residents as well.
The cast of seven has a wonderful chemistry, making the intimate, rural atmosphere even more realistic. When gruff diner owner Hannah Ferguson (Katie Thatcher) reluctantly hires Percy (Julie Ann Ruggieri), the two women both guard their emotional walls defensively. Viewed with suspicion, Percy is defiant in front of the diner’s regular visitors, but not for long. Shelby (Holly Ferguson) is drawn to Percy’s independent spirit and a nurturing relationship begins. A beautiful song, “The Colors of Paradise,” shows how well Shelby’s lyricism and Percy’s folksy twang complement each other, just as the characters do. The real healing begins when Percy confesses her crime to Shelby. “I am a wild bird, Shelby!” exclaims Percy, but Shelby embraces her story compassionately. Hannah, too, has a wound to heal but by the end of the first act, the three women have devised a plan to raffle off the diner, and their joyful energy spills over. Their group number, “Shoot the Moon,” is a pure celebration of life.
While the ending brings a resolution that seems perhaps too neat, delightful humor permeates this show. Margaret Prothero is very funny as Effy, a meddling postmistress. As Hannah, Katie Thatcher’s sarcastic quips elicit much laughter. Bill Egan is amusing as a perplexed husband, and Rod Lathim makes the audience feel right at home with his moving song, “This Wide Woods.” Ruggieri, as the show’s lead, delivers a strong performance in the demanding role of Percy.
Rick Mokler has directed another successful musical with his Spitfire Grill — his 43rd directorial assignment for the SBCC Theatre Group. Come to enjoy an uplifting story, an expertly designed set, and the live music, and you will be inspired.