The minute Percy (Dani Vazquez) gets to town, it’s a bit rocky with her new neighbors.
Just off the bus and fresh off a 5-year prison sentence, the newcomer isn’t given a warm welcome by the townspeople, especially once she begins work at the local eatery, the Spitfire Grill.
Rocky is a good word to describe the start of the play of the same name, produced by the Savannah Repertory Theatre and playing July 2 and 3, and July 8-10 at Jenkins Hall on the Georgia Southern Armstrong campus.
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As Percy gets off the bus, the audience is tossed into a lot of different personalities all at once. At the same time, Vazquez is tasked with establishing her voice and her character from the opening note, but faltered — never finding a confident flow for the accent and lyrics that captures the anxiety of those opening minutes of the play. This continues a bit longer with the play finally settling into a groove once Shelby (Jennifer Bishop) is added to the trio at the Grill, joining Percy and Hannah (Sandra Karas).
By that point, we’re able to settle into the beats and issues plaguing each character, and those small character pieces between songs shine as outlets to gain more understanding of who these people are rather than the caricatures they’re painted as in “Something’s Cooking at the Spitfire Grill.”
Then, there’s a comfort in settling into the forgotten small town narratives at play. The quarry is closed so jobs are available. Nothing has changed in decades and most members are itching to break away from the town. The highway passed them by so it’s almost as if Gillead doesn’t even exist to many.
The nostalgic notes of Wayne Bucknor Jr.’s cello coupled with Christopher Stanley on the guitar and Ryan McCurdy on the piano and melodica creates an achingly beautiful and melancholy soundtrack to a forgotten mountain town.
By the time we get to “Colors of Paradise,” “The Spitfire Grill” has found its groove and Vazquez finds more confidence in her voice that when “Shine” comes along, it’s a blessing the roof didn’t come down with the power of her rendition. While all the time, Dolette McDonald continues to pop in and steal each scene she’s in. (When can we expect a sitcom starring her and Sandra Karas? And why isn’t it happening now?)
As the play comes to a conclusion, it’s difficult not to appreciate the coziness of “The Spitfire Grill” and its calming rumination of community and the needed jolt to wake everyone up occasionally from the malaise slumber that complacency can lull you into.
As the community comes together and gets ignited in their quest to keep the Grill and wake up the town, it’s hard not to subtextualize this message with the current quest of the Rep on Broughton Street.
Either way, “The Spitfire Grill” starts slow but wins you over with its cozy community message and a cast that coalesces into a winner by the end song.
Find tickets at savannahrep.org.
Zach Dennis is the editor of the arts and culture section and weekly Do Savannah alt-weekly publication at the Savannah Morning News and can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah GA things to do: Savannah Rep presents The Spitfire Grill