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O'Brien News Service
PLAYS RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY...
MT. CARROLL - As the 50th season of Timber Lake Playhouse comes to a close, one could say they are going out in style. No, make that I could say that, because they are.
"The Spitfire Grill" closes out the season for the cast and what a season of song, dance, humor and drama, seasoned with one of the finest ensembles this theater in the woods has seen in its 50 years.
Each play has its unique standout roles, mixed with the chemistry of a cast that seemed to have been together for some time. This time, a smaller cast, and yet, same result. All eyes, right away, were on the very talented Erica Vlahinos, who plays Percy Talbott, a women out of prison and
seeking a new life in a small town called Gilead, Wisconsin.
Why Gilead? First, this play is based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. Second, it is a chance for Ms Talbott to seek a new life, far away from her past.
In a nutshell, Gilead, Wisconsin is a small, rural town where the waitress spills the gossip as she fills your coffee cup. When a young woman with a secret past arrives, the unsuspecting town doesn’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon. But working together, they help each other rediscover the joys they’d lost and find that their roots run deeper than they’d ever imagined. The joys, sorrows and friendships come alive as the try to rid themselves of the grill, but in the end, come to find it may not be in the cards (or raffle). As the journey is unwinding, life gets in the way, as does the past. The past being that of a visitor they all know, but didn't know all about. Not yet anyway.
Vlahinos is both fiery and vulnerable as she is gorgeous and strong. Her voice could melt the snow that settles in this town during the long winter days and nights. She is a talent. Mix her in with Shelby Thorpe, played by Katie Wesler, and you will find it hard trying to focus on one of them as they share a scene. How about using the word mesmerizing for Wesler? Go ahead, it would not be wrong. Wesler plays the wife of a proud and bitter man, Caleb Thorpe, played by a star in the making, Brandon Ford. No matter the part this summer at the playhouse, he is someone we will surely be seeing and hearing more about. But, will he keep this name?
At the outset of the play, Percy is taken to this sleepy town by her parole office, one Joe Sutter, played by Aaron
Conklin. He is smooth and makes a play for Talbott and comes to realize something about this town, which means both must make a decision. Fine vocals and acting come from Conklin as well.
And kudos to the guest actors of "The Spitfire Grill." The owner of the grill is Hannah Ferguson (get ready to hear "Dear Mrs. Ferguson" as it is a crucial part of the play), playedby Marcia Sattelberg. Her character is that of a mother, diner owner and friend to many in town. We know this person where we live. We all have a Hannah in
our town. Albeit, a bit stubborn, she takes a while to open her heart. She provides touching and funny moments, and then add in the singing. In fact, watching the cast sing and act while in the kitchen, cleaning the diner,
and all the rest, proves live theater is not easy.
The musical numbers played nicely and went from dialogue to song without a hitch. Again, a testament to this cast.As the postal delivery person, Effy Krayneck, played with a nosy, yet likeable touch, is Judy Knudston. It's hard not to like the gossip-spreading character. You may not know the muscial numbers but they flow so well and be worth another listen. As this play just might be worth another look, too. Some of those numbers include "A Ring Around the Moon," "When Hope Goes" and "Shoot the Moon" from the first act. Others in the first act that also stood out for me were "The Colors of Paradise" and "Ice and Snow." The latter was by Vlahinos and Wesler and note the above reference about when they share a scene. "Out of the Frying Pan" is so good and seems so hard to pull off, it sets the play rolling as it is the third song of the first act.
The second act comes at you in full force so be prepared. It's funny, then it tears at you, then fulfills its promise. With songs such as "Wild Bird" and "Shine," among others, "The Spitfire Grill" cooks up a fine night at the theater in the woods, known as Timber Lake Playhouse.
Guest Director Matthew Teague Miller from Napa, California, is at the helm, providing the right touches to a play that has no set changes and must deal with all the issues surrounding the characters. The play runs through Aug. 21. Call the box office at 815-244-2035.