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Dixon Players celebrate 10th anniversary with 'The Spitfire Grill'

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In 2007, the Dixon Community Players debuted theatrically with “The Spitfire Grill,” a 2001 musical written by James Valcq and Fred Alley. This week, the group is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a revival of “the show that started it all.”

Performances are planned Friday through Sunday (May 19-21) and May 26-28. Curtain is at 7 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. The venue is The Toolshed, 68 State Road 75 in Dixon, 26.4 miles south of Taos.

The stage musical was based on Lee David Zlotoff’s 1996 film of the same name. The story of three very different women, working together to revive a small town called Gilead, is most often described as a tale of redemption. In the film version, redemption came at the cost of one of the character’s lives. Not so in the stage musical, which allows its protagonists to live and thrive — a creative decision that elicited some argument from critics, but sighs of relief from tenderhearted audiences.

Holly Haas, a co-founder of the Dixon Community Players, is reprising her role from the 2007 production as Hannah, the owner of the Spitfire Grill. Haas is a professional set designer and scenic artist whose work earned her union status in New York City at age 22. She has been based in Dixon since 1978, while continuing to work in film.

“I am reliving the part of this very complex, wonderful character,” Haas said. “This production, like its plot, embodies the far-reaching impact that small towns and small organizations can have on the world. Our goal is to give back to the community through entertainment and financial assistance. Since 2007, we have donated over $20,000 to the community and we have produced 14 shows.”

Glenda Fletcher, a founding member of the Dixon Community Players, is also returning in the role she played a decade ago. “I play Percy Talbott. She’s just getting out of jail for a crime she committed and is starting over in this small town. I love Percy. She came from the hills of West Virginia. I was born in a small town in North Carolina, so I could immediately understand her background, and though her hardships were not mine, I could identify with her Appalachian roots. Percy is a bit in my cellular structure. This musical is meaningful in that there are so many small towns and villages in Northern New Mexico where neighbors are still close and know each other well and look after each other. That’s a dynamic that has been lost in so many places.”

Elisa Enriquez came to Northern New Mexico with her husband in 2001. She is a vocalist with the Los Alamos Big Band and works extensively with the Los Alamos Light Opera. “I play Shelby Thorpe, a timid but soulful character who has likely always been a ‘people pleaser,’” said Enriquez. “Shelby transforms from unsure of herself to speaking her mind with conviction. The experience of Shelby becoming empowered with the help of Percy and Hannah makes me love her character even more.”

Bear Schacht, who recently starred in “Bye Bye Birdie” in Taos, is making his first appearance with the Dixon troupe. “I play the role of Joe Sutter, a small-town sheriff tired of life in the tiny town of Gilead and thinking about leaving. The town and community of Gilead itself is changed over the course of the show, and people come to realize the value it has. What’s neat is that the cast all comes together from smaller towns themselves, and the collaboration and community surrounding this production is something I am grateful to be part of.”

Rick DeStefano is known to Taos audiences as a musician. This production sees him stepping out from behind the piano and taking on a major dramatic role as Caleb Thorpe, Hannah’s embittered nephew. “All the play’s characters are complex, in need of some redemption, but Caleb is the nearest to a villain. The director is patiently working to get me to be less nice. This is a really good show with good singers. The music is great – tuneful, yet complicated.”

Deb Kerstiens plays Effy, the postmistress and town gossip. “Sometimes one’s negative judgment of oneself or someone else can have an incredible impact on our life and the lives of those around us,” she said of the play’s lessons. “We do what we think we have to do to get through day by day, but happiness eludes us. It takes the love and support of family and friends to ever be truly happy.”

Dixon Community Players veterans Edna Martin, David Rigsby and Will de Maret portray the townspeople. “I was born and raised here in the Embudo Valley,” said Martin. “‘Spitfire Grill’ would probably be meaningful to someone who lives in a small community.”

The musicians include two keyboard players —Sheila Schiferi, who is the show’s musical director, and Gretchen Amstutz — as well as guitarist Dick Padberg.

“The music is interesting and subtle and different than typical Broadway shows,” said Schiferi. “The writers were aiming for an Appalachian feel, so you have old, modal scales and minor chords in the bass – while the treble does something else and melodies and harmonies resolve on unexpected beats. We keep going back to listen, and we hear new things.”

Padberg played for the original Dixon Community Players production of the show 10 years ago. “The music is emotionally touching and a joy to play,” he said. “The town named Gilead has an uncanny resemblance to our little town of Dixon, it seems to me!”

Haas called on longtime friend Cindy Valerio to co-direct. “This show is wonderful because of the script, plot, characters and music,” said Valerio. “‘Spitfire Grill’ eloquently highlights the touching realities of small-town life, and audiences will care about the characters right from the start.”

“This cast is filled with the most gifted singer-actors,” said Haas. “I feel truly blessed to be working with this group of people. I look forward to seeing it all come together on opening night.”

Tickets are $12, $10 seniors and students. Advance tickets may be purchased at dixonplayers.com. For reservations or additional information, call (505) 579-4602.

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