Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Marianne McLaughlin on *The Spitfire Grill*

Here are some outtakes from an e-mail interview with Marianne McLaughlin,
the director of The Spitfire Grill (at the Civic’s Studio Theatre, March
19-April 11). A fuller preview of the show appears in tomorrow's Inlander, pp. 19-20.

Synopsis at the musical's official site is here.

For three production photos from The Spitfire Grill, visit the new (starting tomorrow, March 18), click on "Arts & Culture" and then "Theater-Blog" ... and you'll see the same content as here -- at least, going back to Feb. 12, 2010 (but not the four and half years' worth of blog posts at before that).

INLANDER: If you had to choose, would you say that this musical is more about Percy’s or
Hannah’s redemption? The ex-con or the crusty matriarch?

McLAUGHLIN: The bond that Percy and Hannah form as the show progresses, even if they are not aware of it, roots itself in a need for redemption, but also the realization
that they must face their demons and then finally forgive themselves.

What particular song has been most complicated to stage, both vocally and in terms of choreography and blocking?    
“Shoot the Moon,” while not vocally the most difficult, had the cumbersome detail of large mailbags and a wheelbarrow to deal with in the small space representing the seating area of the grill in the Studio Theatre. Troy Nickerson [the Civic’s resident director] did assist on some of the large-group numbers, but this particular one had to be my own work in progress,
as I was never satisfied with it and constantly making changes, finally coming
to the decision that less is more.

Which tunes will the audience be humming on the way out?
“Colors of Paradise” always seems to stay with me after it’s been sung.

When Percy moves into her new, Spartan room at Hannah’s,
it’s like her old prison cell. Any special lighting effects at this point?   
The bedroom at the end of the dark hall is indicated as we
see it through Percy’s imagination. Because this is the Studio Theatre and
because the only time her room is indicated is in her first song, “A Ring
Around the Moon,” the choice was made not to include it in the set design. In
this case, it is the job of the actor [Manuela Peters] — with the aid of some
dark, shadowy lighting — to suspend the audience’s belief and take them there.

Is “A Ring Around the Moon” Percy’s optimistic song of liberation?
The song serves two purposes: exposition at the beginning of the show and indicating Percy’s decision to start a new life. There is certainly optimism, but there are also strong feelings of uncertainty as to whether she will be accepted by the residents of Gilead — and whether she will succeed in finally putting her past to rest.

When the townspeople gather at the grill, how are you staging the overlapping songs?
I wanted to communicate to the audience that this was another morning at the grill — everyone’s regular meeting place, seeing the people who they have known all their lives — the caveat being, on this particular morning, the arrival of Percy Talbot. So while the staging is
stylized in many ways, I wanted it to be relaxed and natural. The overlapping and difficulty of this number [reflects] the growing agitation and curiosity over Percy’s arrival. 

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