Friday, April 13, 2018

Review of Refuge Theatre Project's The Spitfire Grill

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Spitfire Grill. The music and book were by James Valcq and the lyrics and book were by Fred Alley. It was based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. It was directed by Christopher Pazdernik and the music direction was by Jon Schneidman. It was about a woman named Percy (Lauren Paris) who had just recently gotten out of jail and was trying to start her life over. She has seen a picture in a magazine of what the leaves look like in the fall in Gilead, Wisconsin, so she decides to go and live there. She gets a job working at the Spitfire Grill for Hannah (Katherine Condit). The Sheriff, Joe (Alex Christ), is her parole officer. And Hannah is getting older and is having problems with her health so she decides she should sell the grill. Percy comes up with the idea to have a contest to raffle off the Spitfire Grill. Hannah's nephew Caleb's (Gerald Richardson) wife, Shelby (Emily Goldberg) who is an employee there is also really excited about the idea. But some people in town aren't too excited about Percy or the raffle, like Effy (Nicole Michelle Haskins), the local busybody. It is about home, letting go, and turning over a new leaf.

"Something's Cooking at the Spitfire Grill" was a great introduction to all the characters. The way everyone reacts to Percy arriving is the way their personality is going to be for the rest of the show. Effy was a really great comic character, a very classic small-town gossip. In this song, Effy is basically spreading all these rumors about Percy and the most scandalous thing to her was that Percy might have tattoos, which seems pretty funny, especially because about 5 seconds later, everybody finds out Percy has been to prison. You also get to see a friendship start between Shelby and Percy. I really like their friendship throughout the show. They are very opposite kinds of people, but they bond almost instantly. The song reminds me of a square dance. Everyone is passing these rumors in an orderly fashion, like "swing your rumors round and round. Kick that girl out of our town."

A thing that is really interesting about this production is that it is performed in a real restaurant, Windy City Cafe. This was really great for the grill scenes and it was great to see the actors use the space to its full extent. I think it would have felt more immersive if all the audience were at tables. The performers were in a diner, but it felt like the audience was watching them instead of also at a diner because so many of them were just in rows of chairs. Most of the play does take place in the Spitfire Grill, but there are some scenes I think would have benefited from being in a theater with a full lighting plot. For example, they could have done something really cool with the colors they talk about in "Shine" with lighting or a set change to indicate where Percy was and the impact on her of the beautiful colors of fall. It is supposed to be very poetic, and I think it could have benefited from having a more versatile space.

I really like the stylized movement in the song "Ice and Snow" where they used shovels and tire chains and were doing a sort of stomp thing. They were singing about the hardships of winter and the song takes you right into spring. Effy, Joe, and Caleb were all discovering the beautiful things about spring and being thankful that winter was over. Using everyday objects made it work in my brain with the rest of the show which was very realistic and not stylized in its movement. But because they were using everyday objects it was in keeping with the realism of the rest of the show.

People who would like this show are people who like site-specific theater, stylized shoveling, and square dance rumors. I think this show has some really cool elements and a lot of strong performances. It was a lot of fun.

Photos: Zeke Dolezalek

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