by Katie Milligan
Cedarville University’s spring musical, “The Spitfire Grill,” is an engrossing tale of tragedy and brokenness, but ultimately a thrilling story of hope, healing and reconciliation.
The production begins with Perchance “Percy” Talbot (played by Emily Hunnemeyer) arriving at midnight to the middle-of-nowhere town of Gilead, Wisconsin. She has just completed a five-year stint in prison, and her parole officer Sheriff Joe Sutter (Byron Mrowiec) lands her a job as a waitress at the only local restaurant, the archaic Spitfire Grill, owned by the rough-around-the edges yet lovable Hannah Ferguson (Karlie Ward). Looking for a fresh start, Percy sought out Gilead for its beautiful fall foliage, but gossip kicks up as soon as she sets foot in town, mostly instigated by the town busybody Effy Krayneck (Suzanna Slack). When Hannah breaks her leg and Percy must take over the grill, she enlists the help of Shelby (Connor Haynes), the timid wife to Hannah’s domineering nephew Caleb Thorpe (Andrew J. Standley). Shelby and Percy become fast friends, despite Percy’s reluctance to open up to anyone.
The audience soon discovers the cause of the strange pall over Gilead; Hannah’s son Eli, the pride of the town, had enlisted in the Vietnam War, and went missing in action. The entire town mourned his loss, and Hannah’s husband died of grief. The memories of the family restaurant are too painful, so she wants to sell the place. Ever since Eli’s disappearance, the town mood has darkened, and its inhabitants feel trapped. But the arrival of Percy just might change everything.
When Percy hears that Hannah is struggling to sell the grill, she suggests the idea of a raffle: if one sends in $100 and an essay detailing why they want the grill, they earn an entry to win. Hannah agrees, so Percy and Shelby submit an ad to the newspaper. Before they know it, responses begin flooding in from cities all across the country, gushing about how wonderful it would be to escape city life and enjoy the quiet countryside with loved ones. This enthusiastic response awakens a local pride for the characters, shifting their perspective with a glimmer of hope.
The small cast of seven presents an energetic performance. The musical numbers vary from upbeat, comedic tunes to heart-wrenching, emotional solos; Hunnemeyer and Haynes sing a beautiful duet entitled “Colors of Paradise.” The stage is a studio-style, allowing the audience to experience the show up-close. The set consists of a charming, rustic diner: leather booths, linoleum flooring, and an old-fashioned bar complete with a cash register and made-to-order breakfast.
The theme of healing surfaces throughout the musical’s plot. Percy comes to Gilead to run from a painful past, and the citizens of Gilead suffer from grief and discontent. However, Gilead itself is a metaphor for hope. The show’s dramaturg Cory Brookins points out in the audience resource guide that the name “Gilead” appears in the Bible more than 100 times, mostly referring to a region rich in medicinal herbs and ointments. It is also reminiscent of the traditional hymn entitled “There is a Balm in Gilead.” Though in Act 1 Shelby sings, “When hope goes, hearts close,” Percy later can sing, “There’s a sparkle of hope along Main Street tonight, and Gilead has come alive again.”
In the end, Gilead truly becomes a place of healing.
“The Spitfire Grill” will be showing in DeVries Theater until April 14. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at Cedarville.edu/ticketinfo.
Katie Milligan is a sophomore English major. She enjoys taking Polaroid photos, eating pasta and watching Disney movies.