‘Spitfire Grill’ serves hope

Allen Community College Theatre presents "Spitfire Grill" at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. It's a story about a young woman who is released from prison and travels to a small town, where she helps an entire community find renewal and redemption.

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April 21, 2022 - 3:10 PM

Allen Community College Theatre transforms the stage at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center into the “Spitfire Grill.” The play will be performed at 7:30 tonight through Saturday, with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday. In front is Rachel Shaffer. Back from left, Maxwell Kays, Krais Baker and Lexie Vega. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Hope is powerful.

And when you bring hope to an entire community, that’s even more powerful.

The Allen Community College Theatre Department brings hope to Iola with “Spitfire Grill,” a musical based on the 1996 movie.

The play will be offered at 7:30 tonight through Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. 

It’s the story of a young woman who is released from prison and moves to a small town, where the only job available is at the Spitfire Grill. 

Rachel Shaffer steps into the lead role as Percy Talbot, and she’s simply stunning with a captivating voice that delivers beyond the stage and into the rafters. 

She’s looking for a fresh start in an unfamiliar town, hoping to find something beautiful. Instead, just about everyone she meets is sad, angry or both. 

The first person she meets is the local sheriff, played by Maxwell Kays, who is also her parole officer. Kays’ versatility allows him to evolve from someone who feels trapped in the place where he grew up, to someone who falls in love not only with the town but also the newcomer. He’s restrained and distant, and then happy and joyful, only to have his dreams crushed. 

He points her to the Spitfire Grill, where she meets Hannah Furgeson, the embittered owner. She’s never been the same since her son was declared Missing in Action while serving in Vietnam. 

Lexie Vega takes on the role of Hannah, transforming herself into a bitter but sassy old woman, who spends much of her time on crutches or using a cane. She’s a strong woman and a bit bossy, but Vega plays her with hints of a tender vulnerability.

Maxwell Kays Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Krais Baker, top, Maxwell Kays and Kate Vernon portray the townsfolk of Gilead. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Rachel Shaffer dreams of a fresh start. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Lexie Vega speaks to Krais Baker, who plays her nephew. Photo by Vickie Moss
Maxwell Kays and Rachel Shaffer. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
Rachel Shaffer views the town from a mountaintop with a mysterious stranger played by Blake Hess. Photo by Vickie Moss
Jazmin Havens and Rachel Shaffer. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register
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Hannah’s nephew, Caleb, is not happy that his aunt has hired a felon, and even less happy when she takes over running the business after Hannah falls and breaks her leg. But then, Caleb isn’t happy about anything. 

Krais Baker plays Caleb with just the right notes of anger, sadness and frustration. He’s kind of a jerk, but he’s a man who has always worked hard and keeps getting knocked down by life. He feels he’s always falling short when compared to the memory of his cousin. 

Kate VernonPhoto by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Adding fuel to his fire is town gossip, Effy, played with a pot-stirring zeal by Kate Vernon. “She was born curious,” is one way to put it. Vernon sings with a provocative delight as she steams open letters and digs into matters that don’t concern her. 

Into all the anger and angst walks a little bit of sunshine. Jazmin Havens portrays Shelby, Caleb’s wife and a waitress at the Spitfire Grill. She’s sweet and charming, with an enchanting voice to match. 

The characters played by Shaffer and Havens soon come up with a plan to save the Spitfire Grill.

Combined, the lyrical trio of Shaffer, Vega and Havens delight. Three powerful voices combine perfectly, each bringing a slightly different tone but none overwhelming the other.

Rounding out the cast is a mysterious stranger, played silently by Blake Hess.

The second act turns a touch darker, as secrets are revealed along with the identity of the mysterious stranger. 

Everyone is transformed along the way.

Rachel Shaffer and Jazmin Havens come up with a plan to save the Spitfire Grill. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

TREVOR BELT, director of the ACC Theatre Department, calls the play “a love letter to small town living.”

He saw it performed more than a decade ago, and it reminds him of the small town where he grew up as well as Iola.

And after more than two years of living through a global pandemic, it seemed appropriate for this moment, he said. The play is a reawakening of a town and its people, much as the world is learning how to come back together and find hope for the future.

It’s a challenging time, and a challenging story to tell.

But, Belt said, “I had the people to do it.”

Most of the cast of “Spitfire Grill” sings a number. From left, Maxwell Kays, Lexie Vega, Kate Vernon, Rachel Shaffer and Jazmin Havens. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

The cast of sophomores take on each of the challenging roles with gusto. Telling the story in the right way demands a certain level of maturity and depth, which the actors deliver. 

“There are a lot of strong parts for a lot of strong actors,” Belt said.

The music of “Spitfire Grill” is gorgeous, too. A small live orchestra plays a variety of instruments, with haunting melodies and the sounds of violin, cello, accordion, guitar, mandolin and piano. 

Credit should also be given to the crew who built an elaborate set, bringing the Spitfire Grill to life with the finest details and multiple levels.

Maxwell Kays and Rachel Shaffer.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

TICKETS are $7 for adults, $5 for students. Admission is free for ACC students, faculty and staff.

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