note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of two-act musical, “Dogfight,” is more than a moving, romantic story of a couple least likely to fall in love within 24 hours. Set in San Francisco in 1967 and flashing back to Nov. 21, 1963, “Dogfight” also articulates a strong statement about the Vietnam War, its effect and aftermath on patriotic young Marines who were gung-ho to go “over there,” save our country, and return home to glory, as heroes.
“If you want to save the world, join the Marines,” Cpl. Eddie Birdlace pronounces. “Do or die, Semper Fi,” Birdlace and buddies Boland and Bernstein frequently intone. Full of bravado and idealism, the soldiers open the second act with a rousing rendition of “Hometown Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade”.
Although the actors and writers are too young to have experienced this black blot on America’s history, they admirably depict some of the era’s ugly more’s, values, deception and cruelty.
SpeakEasy celebrated artistic director, Paul Daigneault, has waved his usual magic wand, amassed a terrific production crew and vibrant cast, primarily composed of fresh-faced Boston Conservatory students and alumna. The story centers around Marine buddies Cpl. Eddie Birdlace (Jordan Ford), wiseacre, big-mouth, Boland (Jason Troilo), and less experienced Bernstein (Drew Arisco), who wants to lose his virginity before shipping out. The three guys define their roles well, and Ford unleashes his clear, beautiful tenor in all numbers. However, his closing solo, “Come Back,” is deeply moving.
The night before their departure to Vietnam, the soldiers stage a traditional “dogfight,” which doesn’t involve canines, but the ugliest “dogface” females they can find, to enter in their contest for ugliest date.
Thing is, Eddie encounters chunky waitress Rose Fenny (Alejandra Parrilla), who really isn’t ugly at all, and has a beautiful spirit. He talks her into coming to a party with him, without revealing his real reason; but the more he’s with the sincere, aspiring country music writer-performer, he has misgivings while enticing Rose in song, “Come to a Party”. Meanwhile, Parrilla captures Rose’s excitement in having her first date, her light soprano eagerly expressing “Nothing Short of Wonderful”. Boland, a real creep, pays frowsy prostitute Marcy to be his date, so he can win. And he does, with Rose in second place. Portraying Marcy and two other minor roles,petite McCaela Donovan, is too pretty underneath costume designer Elisabetta Polito’s towering wig and outlandish get-ups,but humorously pulls off Marcy’s crudeness with her gum-cracking, foul-mouthed quips. Then, too, Jenna Lea Scott portraying several stone-faced (and probably stoned) females adds her own levity in several scenes.
Admirably rounding out the cast are Patrick Varner, Dylan James Whelan, Dave Heard, Edward Rubenacker, and Liliane Klein.
Music Director Jose Delgado at the keyboard, along with violinist Danyele Homer, guitarist Tom Young, and drummer/percussionist Hector E. Saint-Hilaire, are magicians, too, their sound ideal, never overwhelming the performers’ voices in the theater’s intimate space.
Seated near the stage’s open floor, surrounding the cast on three sides, theatergoers get a close-up, personal look and share the cast’s emotions.Designer Cristina Todesco has created a simplistic two-level set, with two movable ladder-style metal structures and minimal large props. Jeff Adelberg’s lighting and David Reiffel’s sound effects add dramatic clout, especially during the second act’s simulated battle scenes.
As the action flashes back a few years, theatergoers who experienced the 1960s’ uncertainty and unfathomable assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother, Robert Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X, painfully reminisced. They also remember the shame, humiliation, and degradation of those returning soldiers, and society’s shameless abusive treatment of them.
There’s no flag-waving in “Dogfight,” but SpeakEasy has poignantly captured that historic place in time that’s better left untrod.