Peggy Sue Dunigan

The Spitfire Grill

By - Aug 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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“Shoot the moon, life is hard and gone too soon,” sings Percy, Hannah and Shelby in The Spitfire Grill.

Set in the north woods of Gilead, Wisconsin, this production was adapted from Lee David Zlotoff’s film. Fellow Wisconsinites Fred Alley, co-founder of American Folklore Theatre in Door County, and James Valcq, who started at the Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee, collaborated on the themes of hope and redemption. Those familiar with Alley’s music, including the often-produced Guys on Ice, will reconnect with some of the haunting lyrics in this piece of musical theater. Several include “A Ring Around the Moon,” “Wild Bird,” “Shine” and “Shoot the Moon,” which are all made more memorable by Valcq’s melodies.

Brenda L. LaMalfa, who plays the poignant main character of Percy, captures each note perfectly. Her persona of the young girl being released from prison radiates every nuance. Struggling to create a new life, Percy is placed in Hannah Ferguson’s Spitfire Grill, the only restaurant in town. When Hannah breaks her leg, Percy and Shelby, another young woman imprisoned in a stifling marriage, carry the responsibilities of the grill as Hannah recuperates. But the town busybody, Effy, and Shelby’s husband, Caleb, complain as Percy continues to bring her rays of hope to Gilead. Throughout the two acts, every character tries to shoot the moon as secrets are revealed and light flickers through the windows of the Spitfire Grill once again.

But full summer moonlight shines on this production. Elaine Rewolinski as the cantankerous Hannah acts with appropriate audacity while beautifully singing every measure. And only 18, Cherissse Duncan as Shelby is an admiral addition. But LaMaffa is a Percy the audience will remember, as even a faulty sound system during the first half refused to let her character or vocals dim. This trio enlightened the stage with a glow that gives life to Gilead, their performances enhanced further by live instrumental accompaniment.

Acacia Theatre’s Spitfire Grill would make Valcq and Alley proud as it retains the spirit of their script and score. These were to be Alley’s last lyrics, and final time the two long time friends combined their talents. He was unable to receive the prestigious Academy of Arts and Letters Award for New American Musicals in 2001 that was given to this show as he died that spring of a heart attack, and for him life was indeed gone too soon. The tragedy of September 11 followed closely, and this musical resonated more deeply than ever as the then Skylight Opera produced the show the following fall. Six years later, the themes are ever timely and the ability to shoot the moon still illuminates hope. As the production continues until July 22, spend an evening in the light and shadows cast by this Spitfire Grill. VS

The Spitfire Grill is presented by Acacia Theatre Company in the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University through July 22.For tickets or information call 414-744-5995 or visit

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