BLAND MEAT COOKED WELL IN THE SPITFIRE GRILL
Boho Theatre’s rendition of James Valcq and Fred Alley’s simple musical The Spitfire Grill demonstrates the redemptive power of acceptance, forgiveness and love. Released from prison, Percy (Laura Savage) seeks a new life in Gilead, Wisconsin, a town fallen on hard times, or as Sheriff Joe (Matt Keffer) puts it: “a place for leaving, not for coming to.” Despite the population’s initial hesitation, a mysterious newcomer is exactly what they need. Percy plucks the local fatalists from their prison of nostalgia and with some fresh perspectives the citizens of Gilead realize that home is where the hope is.
Due to Diane Fairchild’s efficient, yet detailed set and deft use of lighting, the small stage at the Heartland Studio seems twice as big. And in this intimate 30-seat theater, all of the actors’ performances are grand, twice as impressive as I expected. The casting is perfect. Laura Savage (Percy) adeptly conveys subtleties of her character through slight, almost imperceptible changes in facial expression and body language. Nancy Kolton (Hannah) plays the acerbic, yet sympathetic restaurant owner so well that I had trouble imagining the actress’s personality any different in the real world. And isn’t that the goal of the actor: to blur the line between reality and fantasy? Well done.
At The Spitfire Grill, the bacon sizzles but the songs kind of fizzle. The main problem is that many songs aren’t utilized to define character: In the opening number, our heroine Percy spends a quarter of the time unnecessarily counting (yes, one, two, three) rather than hinting at her past or introducing her personality; the catchy country tune “Frying Pan” shows off Percy’s charming Southern twang, but it lacks character specificity—many people can’t cook, but why exactly can’t she?; and “Ice and Snow,” a song about transitioning from winter to spring, Valcq and Alley miss the opportunity to strengthen the show’s themes of death, rebirth, hope, and transformation—instead, they offer lyrics as deep as:
“If I could, I’d grow my hair
Sleep all winter like a bear”
Act I only skims the surface of the play’s conflicts, which leaves Act II freefalling into a mess of melodrama. While much can be blamed on the script itself, director Anna Hammonds did not balance the two halves to sustain believability. Perhaps Percy needs to start with an even darker disposition or she should take a longer pause before dropping the bomb that is her back-story monologue. She certainly shouldn’t climb to the highest point on stage, blanched in retina-searing white light as she sings “Shine,” a song already too saccharine for our bitter heroine. These small choices may not completely disguise the inadequacies of the writing, but they certainly would cushion the blow.
A lot of the plot is predictable (will the lonely small town sheriff fall for the pretty new girl despite her criminal history?), and the unexpected twists shock to the point of disbelief. Still, The Spitfire Grill will please anyone who has a soft spot (or blind spot) for the overly dramatic. It’s essentially a Lifetime movie in musical form, boasting an incredibly talented cast. Hey, you say, that doesn’t sound half bad. You know what, it really isn’t.
photos by Peter Coombs
The Spitfire Grill
Boho Theatre at The Heartland Studio
scheduled to end on October 14, 2012
for tickets, call 773-975-8150 or visit http://www.bohotheatre.com/
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