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Los Alamos Little Theater made one smart choice with its musical production of “The Spitfire Grill.”
For any audience in any town, its message of hope and friendship is just what the doctor ordered. But sitting in the theater Saturday night, I felt the play was prescribed just for Los Alamos.
Gilead, Wis., is a small town that once strutted strong but now limps along due to the quarry closing. Businesses were boarded up and people left town. In sum, Gilead is in a tight spot. Sound familiar?
But those who stayed in town formed a tight bond, which mirrors Los Alamos’ own close-knit community. There is Shelby Thorpe (Elisa Enriquez), her husband Caleb Thorpe (Warren Houghteling), postal worker Effy Krayneck (Gwen Wiens), Sheriff Joe Sutter (Patrick MacDonald) and Spitfire Grill owner Hannah Ferguson (Carolyn Conner). Each of these citizens represents some archetype of small-town life. Shelby is the submissive wife, Caleb is the self-proclaimed leader of the town, Effy is the town gossip, Sutter is the youngster dying to get out of town and Hannah is the tough and crusty town elder.
This cast of characters’ world gets knocked for a loop when an outsider and ex-convict, Percy Talbot (Jess Cullinan) arrives in town.
The entire play takes place in the main room of the Spitfire Grill and as characters stomp in and out of the restaurant, you see just how much Percy impacts and changes the community for the better. It would be enough to leave it at that, but the fact that the play is musical feels like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I’ve seen many of the cast members in other LALT dramatic productions – McDonald, Houghteling and others – but to find out that they can sing – and sing well – was a pleasant surprise.
Other actors such as Cullinan, Enriquez, Connor and Wiens who dazzled in the Los Alamos Light Opera’s production of “The Sound of Music” continued to shine in “Spitfire.” My personal favorite tunes included “Out of the Frying Pan,” which has a real upbeat, catchy tune. Cullinan sings the song with a Southern twang as she stumbles about the kitchen, trying to make heads or tails out of people’s orders. My other favorite was “Ice and Snow.” I loved how the actors pulled out every day objects like snow shovels and fishing rods to add to the music.
What also enhanced the music was the group, The Open Fifths. The group of musicians, which includes Gretchen Amstutz, Eric Bjorklund, John Knudson, Jackie MacFarlane and Marge Agnew, offers wonderful, live music that a recording could not match.
Even better than the music is the message that the play offers – that there is redemption and hope for anyone, no matter how far they have sunk, if others give them a chance.
The set serves as a wonderful package to deliver this message. Set designers Laurie Thomlindon, who also directed the play, and Larry Cox, along with their set and lighting teams, created a restaurant that has not aged well. Everything from the tables to the ladles look worn out. But as new life is breathed into its occupants, the designers and their team cleverly resurrect the restaurant. Checkered curtains are hung and flowers get planted in a window box.
With a little bit of love, it seems, anything can heal.
“The Spitfire Grill” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. It will also be held at 7:30 p.m. May 21 and 22. Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for seniors and students.