ABINGDON, Va. — David Winship likened the most recent town council meeting in Abingdon to “a show with a predetermined script.”
Winship ranked among several speakers at the meeting on July 1 and said it was appropriate that the gathering was held “in a theater.”
My apologies to Richard Rose, the producing artistic director of the Barter Theatre, but I must say that the town’s one-time, hourlong staging of what I’ll call “Fate of the Frenchie Fry” at the Barter Theatre was every bit as riveting, dramatic and comical as any production I have ever seen at the playhouse.
Of course, it helped to have a great cast, like the grinning-yet-grumbling mayor, portrayed in real life by Wayne Craig.
For most of what Winship called “a show,” Craig tried in vain to keep the 200-person crowd from clapping and cheering whenever somebody took a potshot at the citizens group called Friends of Abingdon Inc., which had challenged the Abingdon Planning Commission’s decision to grant approval for Pal’s Sudden Service to build its trademark restaurant building at The Meadows.
That fast-food chain, by the way, is known for its Frenchie Fries.
At the town council meeting, held at the Barter Theatre because it has a much larger capacity than town hall, the audience heard a few good zingers from speakers like Becky Caldwell, saying, “We live in Abingdon, not Snobbington.”
There was also the booming voice of Steve Smith, CEO of the town’s largest employer, K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., the parent company of Food City, which is building a new grocery store at The Meadows.
Smith came to the microphone and denounced the Friends of Abingdon, saying, “These folks will tell you that they’re not against Pal’s, but I can tell you that they are because it’s part of The Meadows development and everything that it stands for. This group has cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not more.”
And what about the big plot twist?
The Friends of Abingdon did not show up to the show!
But, why, they were the ones who had started all of this by filing an appeal against granting approval for Pal’s Sudden Service to build a teal-colored building topped with a hot dog, a hamburger, Frenchie Fries and a Big Tea.
On this night, though, the audience did hear from Richard Macbeth, Roman Blevins, Rolfe Hillman and Stephen Spangler — all great names that sound like they could have been characters in a play or actors on a playbill.
There was even a cameo from Cathy Lowe, the former Abingdon mayor and mother of rock ’n’ roll singer Jerry Castle. Lowe got the crowd on their feet — just like her son might have at a concert. She asked for all who supported Pal’s to stand up. And, at that moment, nearly everyone did!
Pal’s CEO Thom Crosby was also in a scene, delivering a sometimes-funny speech that was met with more loud cheers.
Then, in building up to the climax, under the spotlight of the stage, the audience hushed as we all entered the legal brains of Cameron Bell, the town attorney, who spoke in big words and long phrases, saying he could not find any reason for the town council to justify the Friends of Abingdon’s appeal of the planning commission’s decision.
Ultimately, in yet another dramatic moment, at the point of a play where you gasp for air, the dashing, young Councilman Derek Webb made a motion that sounded so lengthy that you would have thought it could have taken up two pages in a script.
It just went on and on and on.
Yet it garnered passage: Pal’s Sudden Service was approved.
The restaurant would come to town.
And “Fate of the Frenchie Fry” faded with a 10-second-long round of applause.