DRAPER — With a stormy blizzard on the horizon, the Draper Historic Theatre provided a warm and cozy venue for a musical that left me inspired. The Spitfire Grill, a musical performed by the Lamplight Theatre Company, was housed in a locale with true historic and cultural significance in the local community. The theatre opened first in 1938 as a vaudeville and movie hall lovingly called “The Pearl,” and has remained a popular gathering place for neighbors, family, and friends ever since.
Opening night began with a friendly welcome and introduction from director, producer, set constructor and lighting designer Eldon B. Randall. Randall wore many hats during this production, including running the concession stand that reminds the audience of the theatre’s motion picture history. The set was fairly simple, but not lacking in detail; three platforms added variety to the stage as a whole, acting as three distinct locations in the same restaurant throughout the performance.
On the tallest platform was the kitchen of the Spitfire Grill, complete with a refrigerator and coffee maker. To the right was the dining area, with two small tables, each with a pair of chairs and covered in quaint plaid linens. The final platform had only a single rocking chair and throw blanket, the perfect setting for the most intense and emotional scenes during the play, especially during the song, “When Hope Goes” near the start of the first act. The entire set had a bright, rustic design with wood and ax in the foreground, clueing in audience members to the countryside location of rural Wisconsin.
The show began with Percy Talbot (played by Jordyn Aspyn), a strapping young woman with an unknown past being released after serving a five-year prison sentence. She desires a new and fresh start. Inspired by a magazine clipping, she sets off to see the trees of Gilead, Wisconsin, home of the Spitfire Grill. Aspyn was one of the strongest performers at of the evening, with a wide vocal range accompanied by occasional emotional outbursts, such as when Percy revealed the details of her past to Shelby Thorpe (played by Andrea Chapman) in the second act of the performance. Aspyn’s vocals were particularly brilliant during her performance of “Shine,” where she seems to let her inner “wild bird” free. This was a defining moment both for Percy and for the town of Gilead as a whole.
Chapman played Shelby Thorpe completely convincingly, and Shelby became perhaps my favorite character of the evening. Obvious troubles with her husband Caleb Thorpe (played by Nathan Metcalf), led Shelby to be quiet and shy at first. With the help of the new girl in town, ex-convict Percy Talbot, Shelby came out of her shell and learned that she had every right to stand up for herself. She and Percy are eventually employed at the Spitfire Grill, where their friendship grows into one of love, care, and support.
The least convincing character and owner of the Spitfire Grill, Hannah Ferguson, was played by Ashley Ramsey. Ramsey portrayed an older, cantankerous woman with a secret she was unwilling to divulge. During the entire two-hour performance, she never cracked a visible smile, even during the most upbeat songs and scenes when the lines she was saying were very happy, such as during her song of “shooting the moon” near the end of Act I.
The most gifted actor, on the other hand, was undeniably Josh Durfey, who played Joe Sutter, Percy’s parole officer in Gilead. Durfey’s lyrical execution showcased his strong, emphatic vocals with the ability to harmonize beautifully with any of the other performers. He also presented a wide range of onstage emotions, from being stern and disagreeable to in love with a girl and the world around him. Durfey was an unmistakably remarkable actor whose role helped the storyline to move along as it should.
The costume design went uncredited, and there wasn’t much to show. The costumes were simple, comfortable, and country-themed. The only two individuals whose costumes were of any special interest were the mysterious “Visitor,” played by Nikolas Mikkelsen, and Effy Krayneck, played by Jennifer Spongberg. Mikkelsen’s ragged, camouflage outfit hinted at his true, undisclosed identity. Spongberg’s clothing was not necessarily noteworthy, but her accessories, such as her bright eyeglasses that hung either by a chain around her neck or from the tip of her nose, accompanied by comical facial expressions, added to the hilarity of her gossipy character.
This production of The Spitfire Grill, as a whole, was entertaining, well-executed, and stimulating. It addressed heavy themes such as abuse and military dishonor, all the while encouraging audience viewers to understand that every individual has worth. All are deserving of second chances, and there is hope for the future in any life when honesty and love are generously applied.