By John Lyle Belden
“The Spitfire Grill,” a musical presented by Main Street Productions in Westfield, takes place in the Wisconsin wilderness town of Gilead. The name of this fictional yet familiar place carries significance from Bible and literary references to the “balm of Gilead,” an actual medicine in antiquity, and since then a poetic name for a soothing cure.
For one young woman, Percy (played by Chrissy Crawley), the balm comes in the form of a beautiful autumn picture clipped from a magazine. Paroled after five years in prison, she travels to the town in that image. Upon arriving, Sheriff Joe Sutter (Scott Fleshood) tells her the foliage has gone for the winter and there is hardly anything in Gilead except for the run-down diner. Being the only job, and boarding room, for miles, she stays at the Spitfire Grill with its flinty but fair owner, Hannah (Georgeanna Teipen).
Treated with suspicion, especially by local mail-carrier and town gossip Effy (Susan Boilek Smith) and Hannah’s agitated nephew Caleb (Daniel Draves), Percy is off to a rough start. But Caleb’s wife, Shelby (Katelyn Maudlin), comes out of her shyness to befriend the newcomer. Then, while discussing Hannah’s long-unfulfilled desire to sell the Spitfire, they come up with a clever idea to give it away.
“Something’s cooking at the Spitfire Grill,” indeed.
Tom Riddle completes the cast as a mysterious visitor, out beyond the woodshed.
This musical, by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on the 1990s film by Lee David Zlotoff, is directed for Main Street Productions by Brenna Whitaker, with a cozy set by Ian Marshall-Fisher, stage managed by Tonya Rave. The result is a sweet story of starting an unlikely comeback, whether it’s from prison walls or a nowhere town with scrub trees and an abandoned quarry.
Crawley gives us a complex character, equal parts tough and sweet – with both traits serving her well. Teipen imbues her maternal role with the right amount of sass. Fleshood embraces the Mayberry style of charming and respected lawman, apt for this setting. Draves appropriately makes Caleb increasingly harder to like but stops short of villainy. In contrast, Maudlin has Shelby continuously rise to the occasion. Smith adds a little intrigue and a bit of comic relief with her constant busybody.
The original Off-Broadway production in late 2001 was noteworthy for giving audiences some American spirit when they most needed it. We’ve been through a lot in the last few years, as well, so this could be good for what ails you. Find your balm in Gilead, taking a seat at “The Spitfire Grill” with performances through April 23 at the Basile Westfield Playhouse, 220 N. Union St. Get info and tickets at WestfieldPlayhouse.org.