Rural Wisconsin. February. Percy Talbott gazes out her prison cell window. She’s about to be released. [A RING AROUND THE MOON] Arriving in the deserted town of Gilead, Percy reports to Sheriff Joe Sutter who procures her a room and a job at a ramshackle diner called the Spitfire Grill, run by a crusty old widow, Hannah Ferguson.
Caught in a swirl of small town suspicions [SOMETHING’S COOKING] led by postmistress and village busybody Effy, Percy begins to wonders whether she’s made a mistake in coming to Gilead. [COFFEE CUPS AND GOSSIP] When Hannah trips on the stairs and breaks her leg, she has Percy take over the Spitfire against the better wishes of her fiercely protective nephew Caleb. But when it comes to cooking, Percy is clueless. [INTO THE FRYING PAN]
Percy is joined at the Spitfire by Caleb’s wife Shelby. In the heat of the kitchen the two women are drawn together. Shelby tells Percy about Hannah and Gilead’s past – the day her childhood hero went off to war and her hometown changed forever. [WHEN HOPE GOES]
Wanting to escape painful memories, Hannah’s had the Grill on the real estate market for ten years with no takers. Percy dreams up a possible solution: a raffle. For a hundred dollars and an essay about why they might want the Grill, anyone can enter. As the rest of the town watches the long Wisconsin winter stubbornly give way to spring [ICE AND SNOW], the women at the Spitfire plan the contest details. [SHELBY’S AD] Percy and Shelby share a vision of life as they wish it were while writing the ad for the raffle. [THE COLORS OF PARADISE]
Caleb spots the ads in out-of-town papers. Without a decent job since the local quarry closed, he’s been left trying to sell real estate no one wants. His disappointment pours out as he laments a world where it’s no longer enough to be a hard working man. [DIGGING STONE]
During a parole session, Percy tells Joe something of her bleak past growing up in the West Virginia coal mines. Joe in turn spills out his dissatisfaction with life in Gilead. [THIS WIDE WOODS]
Soon the very first raffle entry arrives in the mail, complete with a hundred dollars and a rather depressing essay which only stirs up Hannah’s old wounds. [FORGOTTEN LULLABY] That night on the back porch, Percy encounters a silent visitor. She attempts to make conversation but the mysterious man flees. As summer approaches, essays begin to pour in from far and wide. [SHOOT THE MOON]
Hannah, Percy and Shelby sit in the Grill after hours reading essays. [OPENING ACT II] Hannah expresses her appreciation for what Percy and Shelby have done. [COME ALIVE AGAIN] Before long everyone in town is helping Hannah to sift through the letters, and a palpable shift occurs throughout Gilead.
Now seeing Gilead through the eyes of so many letter writers, Joe tells Percy that he no longer wants to leave town. He plans to build a house on a plot of land his father has given him. [FOREST FOR THE TREES] Deeply troubled, Percy abruptly rejects Joe’s marriage proposal and, after he goes, confides to Shelby the harsh details of her life. Impregnated by her stepfather when she was 16, Percy suffered untold abuse resulting in the loss of her unborn child. While on the run, she killed her stepfather with his own straight razor. Shelby comforts Percy and gently sings her to sleep. [WILD BIRD]
When Percy awakens, she again sees the mysterious visitor and at last realizes he is in fact Eli, Hannah’s son. He leads Percy to a forest clearing. [SUNRISE] The leaves have turned to blazing autumn colors. [SHINE]
Percy brings Eli back to the Grill to re-unite him with Hannah after so many years. In a tense confrontation, Shelby and Caleb recognize Eli and react with such shock at his battered appearance and broken demeanor that Eli flees. Hannah finally admits that Eli had been a deserter in the Vietnam war. The shame of it killed her husband. And though Hannah has taken care of Eli’s basic needs, she has kept his presence in the woods a secret. Percy pleads with Hannah to express forgiveness to Eli. Night falls. Hannah calls out to her son. [WAY BACK HOME] Out of the shadows, Eli appears once more. Hannah reaches out her hand to welcome him home.
While taking first steps to rebuild their lives and relationships, everybody eagerly greets the last day of Hannah’s contest. They all read their favorite essays. Finally Hannah reads the words that have touched her the most, and reveals who will get the Spitfire Grill. [FINALE]