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Small-Town Prejudice

Theater Review

Mar. 30, 2009
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The Fred Alley/James Valcq musical The Spitfire Grill has been locally produced a number of times since its debut in 2000. Based on an indie film, the story of a young ex-con named Percy coming to a tiny, rural Wisconsin town has recently seen local stages in Acacia Theatre and Skylight productions. The latest is a Marquette University staging directed by American Folklore Theatre Artistic Director Jeff Herbst. As with previous productions, it's an enjoyable evening of progressive musical theater with a very natural feel.

Marquette senior Bonnie Auguston stars as Percy, who opens the show in prison garb atop the pinnacle of a stair-laden set that nearly reaches into the stage lights. The acoustics aren't terribly good at that height, but thankfully, very little singing takes place there. The overall mix of sound for much of the rest of the musical is fairly good, although the orchestra pit in front of the stage sometimes overpowers the vocals.

The story slowly unfolds with natural emotions, thanks to a well-wrought Alley/Valcq script and solidly pragmatic directing by Herbst. Rugged and down to earth, Auguston makes for an affable Percy who finds herself in a small town made even smaller by the fact that the entire population consists of only six other characters. The cast is as general a mix of talent as one is likely to see in a university production, with Auguston serving as a solid emotional center. One doesn't get the sense that Percy is all that different from the rest of the characters populating the town, which works well as the story progresses, but makes the town's initial reluctance to accept her seem a bit harsh.

Marquette's production of The Spitfire Grill runs through April 5 at the Helfaer Theatre.


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