Percy Talbot is a girl with way more than her share of a past for someone who is only 21 years old. Just freed from a five-year prison sentence for a crime not immediately revealed, she gambles her future on a wide spot in the road named Geliead for no reason other than a picture she’s torn from a travel magazine while locked up. When she gets there, she finds a dying town with nothing to speak for it except a greasy spoon restaurant run by Hannah Ferguson, a widow who’s been trying, with the questionable help of her nephew Caleb, to sell the place for the last decade. Joe Sutter, the town sheriff is puzzled why anyone would come to a place everyone, himself included, is clamoring to get away from. But at the request of the prison’s warden, Sutter does what he can to help her. Knowing nowhere else to take her, he goes to the one place that could possibly give her somewhere to stay and maybe even employ her—The Spitfire Grill.
And this is where we find ourselves at the beginning of the The Spitfire Grill, a musical presented by the Mid-Ohio Valley Players. With music and book by James Valcq and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, it is based on a movie of the same name by Lee David Zlotoff. In case the opening description doesn’t make it clear enough, this is not a musical in the sense of American musical comedy. This story is hard and edgy and dark and full of the harsh realities of life in a small town where all the jobs are gone and there’s little left for the few people who haven’t escaped to do but dream of better days and gossip about their neighbors. That’s not to say there aren’t numerous joyful moments. This ultimately is a story of redemption and of people learning to trust and find hope and love and forgiveness. But don’t go into this show expecting Hello Dolly or The Music Man.
Without question, the show is carried by Morgan Maciag as Percy Talbot, a troubled soul whose hard exterior belies a heart that wants only to be loved and accepted. Ms. Maciag is a talented young lady who brings the character to life in a powerful way. To say her singing is aesthetically pleasing is not fully accurate, but that is more a function of the style of the show. The goal of the music is not to be mellifluous and pleasant, but to reflect the harshness of the narrative it reveals. That being said, Morgan Maciag does a tremendous job with her dialogue as well as her singing.
The same can be said of the rest of the small cast. Nathanial Maciag as sheriff Joe Sutter does a fine job portraying a kindly man who wants nothing more than to sell his family land once he inherits it and never see Geliead again. Karen Parlett effectively presents Hannah Ferguson, a widow who, like many others, lost her son to the Vietnam War. Like Percy, Hannah seems tough on the outside, but her wounded heart wants nothing more than forgiveness and to learn to love again. Dyrk Conrad Michael does an admirable job portraying Caleb Thorpe, Hannah’s nephew who has been trying for all of his adult life to fill the giant shoes of his MIA cousin and take care of his aunt as best he can. His wife Shelby is sweetly played by Amber Nicole Smrek. Shelby is a charming young woman who is only just discovering who she is beyond simply being her husband’s wife. Finally, Erin O’Neill is humorous as the town postmaster and gossip Effy Krayneck.
This is a show worth seeing. Directed by Jeff Walker with music direction by Peter Sour, it is hard yet beautiful story with which many of us in Appalachia can no doubt relate, at least on some level, with gritty, believable performances by its whole cast. So, get your tickets now. The curtain goes up Friday, January 21 at 8:00 p.m. Subsequent performances will take place on January 22, 28, and 29. Two matinees will take place on January 23 and January 30 at 3:00 p.m., with the January 30 performance being a special presentation for those worried about safety. For that performance, all audience members will be required to wear masks. To get your tickets, visit the MOVP website!