There’s always something happening at “The Spitfire Grill,” as the title song to the James Valcq-Fred Alley musical goes – especially for the cast and the band.
“It takes a lot to learn the lines,” said David Schneider of Brookfield, who plays in Trumbull New Theatre’s version of the play. “A lot of lines just don’t flow. It takes a lot of practice to sit down and learn the script, learn where your connectors are. With only six speaking characters – seven characters, but only six of them speak in the show – you’ve got a lot to do.”
The music also is difficult, Schneider said, and he is glad the musicians have struggled in parts along with the singers.
The play, which started March 6 for a three-weekend run, is set in a Wisconsin town that has lost its major employer, a quarry. Schneider portrays Caleb Thorpe, the struggling ex-foreman of the quarry, who has moved on to a lackluster career in real estate.
“He’s kind of a displaced worker and not handling it well,” Schneider said. “His wife, Shelby (played by Amy H. Burd), he doesn’t want her working, and then it becomes a necessity for his wife to go work at the grill and keep things going. He must have some deep-seated fear of housework, or something.”
For years, Thorpe has been trying to sell the diner for his aunt, who owns it.
“I’m kind of a cranky widow,” said Schneider’s wife, Lois, describing her role of the aunt, Hannah Ferguson. “I want to sell the place because I’m in this town that’s very Rust Belt. The quarry has closed, and I would just as soon get rid of this because it’s a burden.”
Into this setting walks a woman just released from prison (Kara DiBattiste as Percy), who is looking to make a new start in life and finds work in the grill.
The music is “upbeat and fun,” said director Terri Gilbert, even if the story is not always that way, and is delivered by Gilbert on piano, Alan Purdum on bass and cello, Melody Keener on violin, Tom Hitmar on guitar and Robin Sanders on guitar, mandolin and banjo.
“The majority of the story is told through song, not just through acting,” Lois Schneider said.
Lois Schneider has been in TNT shows before but never with Gilbert, which was a goal.
“This was a good opportunity to get them both in the realm for one good musical,” Gilbert said of casting the Schneiders together. “I thought it was good roles for them. Give them a challenge.”
Gilbert called the Schneiders “quick studies.”
“They’re dedicated to their performances and their characters,” said Gilbert, who directed David Schneider in “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Lois Schneider said she loves the minimalist staging of “The Spitfire Grill,” and how it fits within TNT’s building.
“I like the intimacy of the audience, a smaller audience,” she said. “The people are good and competent. Very dedicated. It’s all volunteer, so people who are here want to be here, which makes a difference.”
“I like the intimate space,” David Schneider said. “You’re not that far away from the audience. You can get a good feel for their reactions. It helps you create a more intimate experience.”
Trumbull New Theatre stages “The Spitfire Grill” at 8 p.m. March 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21 and 3 p.m.
March 8, 15 and 22 at 5883 Youngstown Warren Road, Niles. Ticket reservations can be made by calling
330-652-1103, or online at trumbullnewtheatre.tix.com Tickets are $17 for adults and $15 for students.