Leaving the movie theater after seeing Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film, “The Spitfire Grill,” I knew it would remain in my memory for a long time. Excited to actually see the play at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, I was once again charmed.
Percy Talbott (Aurora Florence) has not had a good life. In fact, she is just being released from prison and escorted by Sheriff Joe Sutter to the wimpy little town of Gilead, Wisconsin. Once there, she’s escorted in to meet the owner of The Spitfire Grill, Hannah Ferguson (Devlin).
Hannah takes one look at the down-and-out young woman and suspects Miss Percy will be more trouble than she’s worth. However, Hannah is not the spring chicken she once was and certainly has lost her spitfire proficiency (plus, the cute and polite officer Joe is hard to say no to), so she agrees to take on Percy’s help.
Things might have started off great for boss and employee but for the shenanigans of Effy Krayneck (Maggie Carney). She’s the town’s postmaster, but most call her the town’s bigmouth tattletale. It wouldn’t be so bad if she didn’t spout opinions to everyone about things she thinks are the truth, but in reality, are far from it.
After Hannah is waylaid by a leg/hip injury, Percy puts more effort into helping — even though most of the town is wary of the newcomer. Percy soon meets Shelby Thorpe (Meghan Andrews), a neighbor who helps Hannah at The Spitfire Grill, and Caleb Thorpe (Kevin Earley), her stubborn husband who doesn’t like Percy nor trust her. Shelby and Percy become friends and share a lot as they work together to save the Grill, but Percy doesn’t reveal a secret she discovers that Hannah has been hiding for years.
Buoyed by a plan to raffle off The Spitfire Grill through a national contest, the women manage to raise the sagging town’s spirits (along with their own) as they come to terms with and move past personal tragedies.
The actors are true to their characters, and as they lift their powerful voices in soulful tunes, they win audience hearts. The play offers mystery, humor (Carney keeps everyone laughing), and beautiful accompaniment by the off-stage musicians Alby Potts, Nikko Nobleza, Catherine Gray and George Spelvin.
The splendid cast and inspiring story perceptively affirm there’s no place like home!
IF YOU GO: “The Spitfire Grill” is on stage through July 2 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $42. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org