Afriendless fugitive creates a fresh start, a downtrodden wife finds her spirit, and a crusty old dame reveals her soft center. These three disparate women forge a female bond that eventually embraces a whole town in The Spitfire Grill, the 2001 Off-Broadway musical based on the 1996 film of the same name by Lee David Zlotoff. Making its Bay Area debut at the Willows Theatre Company in Concord (1975 Diamond Blvd.), the rustic musical, written and scored by the team of James Valcq and Fred Alley, is a more upbeat version of the story of Percy Talbott, who after seeing an idyllic picture of a leafy haven, impulsively decides to seek refuge there. Her hopes are dashed upon arriving at her dream destination, where she encounters hostility from the suspicious townsfolk of the economically depressed rural burg of Gilead. But before too long, Percy's hard luck changes. An accident renders Hannah Ferguson, the flinty owner of the ramshackle Spitfire Grill, unable to work, and she reluctantly gives Percy a room in exchange for running her eatery. Her lack of short-order cooking experience is made up for by the culinary skills of Shelby Thorpe, a meek woman married to Hannah's callous nephew Caleb.
The longer Percy lives in Gilead, the more she realizes that she isn't the only one harboring a secret. After learning that Hannah would like to unload her diner, Percy hatches a scheme for a national raffle, open to anyone who pays a $100 entry fee and writes an essay on why they should own the grill. The surprising deluge of essays, from people looking for renewal in a country community whose name suggests the Biblical place that "makes the wounded whole," brings Percy, Shelby, and Hannah closer, and serves to inspire everyone else who came to regard Gilead as a forgotten town with no future.
Directed by Richard Elliott, the production runs from September 22 through October 26. For more information or to purchase tickets call 925-798-1300 or visit WillowsTheatre.org -- Pat Katzmann
What is jazz?
When metal types go experimental and electronic, can you call it jazz? Well, you can book it at the Jazz House (MLK and Alcatraz, Berkeley) at least. Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) goes solo tonight with a Moog and a Minidisk, and a collaboration between Chronicles of Lemur Mutation (aka Greg Wilkinson of Brainoil and Lana Dagales) and Kashin Koji (aka Jon Kortland of Iron Lung and Gob) integrates organic samples with electronic sound sources to score a film of their own devising. Rubber-O-Cement aims to "make the world they've seen with algea [sic] hive brain eyes with cardboard and foam engineering." And Tarantism is just plain unpredictable. Jazzy? You be the judge -- the show is free. Doors at 6:30 p.m., and the show should end by 9:30. -- Stefanie Kalem
Nothing Compares to U
Energized by its combination of Chinese martial arts, theater, dance, and traditional drumming, the ritualistic theatrical spectacles of Taiwan's U Theatre have wowed audiences all over the world -- and now it's Berkeley's turn. Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.) at UCB's Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances presents U Theatre's The Sound of the Ocean , a five-part performance piece illustrating the journey of a drop of water to the ocean -- with maximum athletic prowess and powerful rhythms. The fourteen-member troupe is led by actor Liu Ching-Ming and drummer/composer Wong Chee-Mun. Tickets ($22-$30-$42) from 510-642-9988 or Calperfs.berkeley.edu -- Kelly Vance
Danville Remembers O'Neill
The Eugene O'Neill festival -- a group effort of the National Park Service, Tao House, the O'Neill Foundation, and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley -- continues in Danville. For four days this week at the Village Theatre (233 Front St., Danville), the musical stage play O'Neill: The Rhythms of His Soul celebrates the life and career of one of America's most famous playwrights, author of such classics as Mourning Becomes Electra and The Iceman Cometh. It was written and produced by Dan Crawthon of Saint Mary's College, and plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $26 from 925-314-3463 -- Kelly Vance
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
What the Fork - February 23, 2:12 PM
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
What the Fork - February 15, 2:00 PM
Culture Spy - February 15, 10:30 AM