‘SPITFIRE GRILL’–“SIX FLAGS OVER GILEAD”
A unique and tender kinship develops in American Blues Theater’s brilliant revival of “The Spitfire Grill,” the folk-stylized musical based on the 1996 film by Lee David Zlotoff with book and music by James Valcq and book and lyrics by Fred Alley. Crisply directed by Tammy Mader with musical direction by Malcolm Ruhl, the story follows a year in the lives of three women—stellar performances by Jacquelyne Jones as Perchance “Percy” Talbott, Dara Cameron as Shelby Thorpe and Catherine Smitko as Hannah Ferguson—and others who live day-to-day in the idyllic Wisconsin town of Gilead.
Nothing much happens in Gilead that everybody doesn’t know about. It’s a “place for leaving, not for coming to.” The news pours out over coffee at the Spitfire Grill, the only place in town where you can buy a hot meal or get a room. If you grew up and have always lived in a town like this one, you know that every season brings its natural beauty. That’s what draws people to it, and it instills a sense of responsibility that makes it hard for locals to leave.
When Percy (Jones) arrives at the Gilead train station, the high-spirited stranger must report to her parole officer, Sheriff Joe Sutter (Donterrio Johnson). It’s February and, with few options and more than a passing interest, Sutter takes Percy to meet Hannah Ferguson (Smitko), the Spitfire’s irascible widowed owner, who agrees to take in Percy. Hannah’s domineering nephew, Caleb Thorpe (Karl Hamilton), is not at all keen on the idea, but his wife Shelby (Cameron) forms an immediate bond. When Hannah is accidently incapacitated, Shelby comes in to assist Percy, who has neither the skill nor patience for anyone who crosses her, including the gossipy town busybody, Effy Krayneck (Gabrielle Lott-Rogers).
As Hannah considers her future, in light of Caleb’s lackluster efforts to sell the Spitfire Grill, Percy and Shelby suggest holding an essay contest—“the Spitfire raffle”—to see who can best make their case while paying a $100 entry fee. When Hannah warms to the idea and the three roll it out, Caleb is infuriated and begins to develop a plan of his own. That’s when the temperature starts to rise in Gilead and darker secrets begin to emerge.
Mader has assembled a terrific company stoked with powerfully resonant voices, with none finer than Jones, who finds the anguished core of a resilient survivor striving to settle with her past in the capstone number, “Shine,” and Cameron’s beautifully rendered reflective ballad, “Wild Bird.” Johnson’s tender “This Wide Wood,” a searing rendition of “Forgotten Lullaby” by Smitko, Hamilton’s defiant “Digging Stone,” and the company number “Shoot the Moon” are among the many highlights in the earthy, homespun score.
The seasons melt away on a stark crescent-shaped, tree-stenciled Sarah E. Ross set design richly illuminated by Jared Gooding and Lily Grace Walls costumes, leaving hope to evolve from despair for everyone who spends any time in or around “The Spitfire Grill”—“Six Flags over Gilead.”
AMERICAN BLUES THEATER
THE SPITFIRE GRILL
through August 17, 2019
1225 W Belmont Ave
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