Townies and visitors alike can be spotted packing woolen blankets and picnic baskets full of nature’s bounty, specially prepared to see the final offering of the Shakespeare Festival’s 30th anniversary season “The Spitfire Grill.
As the weather grows cooler and autumn descends on the city of trees, outdoor life is still alive at a little amphitheater known to locals as the site of The Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Townies and visitors alike can be spotted packing woolen blankets and picnic baskets full of nature’s bounty, specially prepared to see the final offering of the Shakespeare Festival’s 30th anniversary season “The Spitfire Grill.” Although based on a film by Lee David Zlotoff and not written by Shakespeare himself, “Spitfire Grill” is well worth bundling up for on a crisp fall evening. Unlike the film version, the play features music and lyrics by James Valcq and Fred Alley.
A story of redemption and renewal awaits a willing audience in arguably the most moving and thought-provoking show of
the year. The play begins with a simple row of willows to the rear of the stage and an iron jail door at the side of the stage. Percy Talbott, played by Sara M. Bruner, enters the stage in prisoner garb and belts the tune, “A Ring Around the Moon,” before being released from prison and embarking on her new life of freedom. An onstage costume swap takes place as a prison warden hands Percy her civilian clothes and she reveals the destination for her fresh beginning: Gilliad, Wis. Percy is attracted to Gilliad by photos she discovers in an outdated travel brochure while in prison.
Upon Percy’s arrival in Gilliad, she is greeted by the handsome Sheriff Joe Sutter, played by Ashton Byrum. He is perplexed by Percy’s choice of Gilliad as a place to start anew, but nonetheless assists her in finding employment and residence at a roadside diner called The Spitfire Grill.
Diner owner, cook and waitress Hannah Ferguson, played by Carole Whiteleather, is a crusty old woman, disenchanted with the business she’s been running for decades. She unenthusiastically takes on Percy, whose lack of experience and willingness to learn infuses a new element to the stale atmosphere of the grill.
Bruner, a student at Boise State, gives an energetic and vocally dynamic performance as Percy. Her vocals strengthen, although mildly, as the show progresses, lending her character a quality of personal growth and tenacity by the end of the production. Her movement about the stage is light but powerful and adds to this forward motion as well as keeping the action
As Hannah, Whiteleather takes the crabby old woman to a new level through hunched posture, gravelly vocals and a “leave-me-the-hell-alone” attitude. This characterization adds to the hopeless feeling of the town of Gilliad. However, as Hannah’s personal happiness is elevated in the progress of the play, Whiteleather’s physical person also changes to exemplify this growth. Her posture becomes upright and her voice develops a triumphant quality to mirror the growth of Gilliad and the Spitfire Grill.
Byrum, as the sheriff, further exemplifies this theme. His attitude, both verbally and physically, morphs from the that of a small-town prisoner to a small-town hero in a matter of two acts.
With his beginnings as Percy’s unenthusiastic parole officer, Byrum takes the role of Gilliad’s official figure, frustrated with the hopelessness of the town, into one of tenderness and promise of a future.
Supporting actors Beverly Ward and Darren Matthias as Shelby and Caleb Thorpe further exemplify the theme of redemption and personal growth. Playing a childless couple struggling to define itself, individually and as a unit, their strong onstage chemistry makes them very believable as a couple both in times when their characters love as well as in times of conflict. Ward presents Shelby as a meek housewife struggling to win the approval of her traditional husband. After Hannah injures herself in a fall, Shelby begins to help Percy out at the Spitfire and gains a sense of independence. By the middle of the second act, Shelby stands up to her husband to the delight of an applauding audience.
Actor Lynn Allison propels the action of the play as town gossip Effy Krayneck and does so with intense enthusiasm and extreme annoyance. However, both of these qualities exemplify the role of the busy bee and are highly entertaining as well as wholly appropriate.
In a play about human relationships and redemption, all the actors come together to forge these relationships in an intensely realistic way. The onstage dynamic between the actors creates a sense of empathy toward the residents of Gilliad, resulting in an immediate full-house standing ovation for
The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is always a local favorite as a place to catch quality theater in the great outdoors. In contrast to the offerings written by Shakespeare himself, “The Spitfire Grill” is going
to satisfy casual and serious theater goers alike. As the final show of the season, it leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth and a feeling of satisfaction.