Monday, June 8, 2015

Street Theatre Company's "Dogfight" Shares the Best and Worst of Humanity

When I first discovered Pasek & Paul’s Dogfight it was during the beginnings of the off-Broadway production. I was caught by the cast (I was a fan of Lindsay Mendez), and then, later, by the amazing music that was leaked onto the internet. When the cast recording of the off-Broadway production was released, I bought it immediately and it has been a staple in my rotation of cast recordings ever since.

Many times I wished a regional theatre or community theatre would take on the story of Eddie and Rose, but it’s a risk, and I knew it. Luckily, Street Theatre Company has never been a theatre to shy away from a challenge or an edgy piece of theatre.

Friday night, STC opened the Nashville premier of Dogfight. Set in 1963, a group of Marines has one final night before being sent to Vietnam. The three bees, also known as Boland, Bernstein, and Birdlace, participate in a cruel game called the dogfight. All the Marines put into a pot and the Marine who brings the ugliest girl to the party… wins.

Eddie Birdlace meets Rose at a diner where
she works with her mother. Awkward and far from your “traditional” beauty, Rose hesitates to go to a party this handsome young Marine has invited her to attend. She relents and heads out on her first date ever. While the first part of the night goes very much the way the audience could have expected; Rose turns Eddie Birdlace’s world upside down.

Audrey Johnson plays Rose. Johnson takes the awkwardness and innocence of Rose and brings the audience into her world. You laugh with her, get excited with her, get angry with her and get sad with her. An outstanding performance and a uniquely beautiful voice, Johnson was a perfect cast for the role of Rose. Johnson was the glue that kept the audience engaged, when they could have checked out because of the cruel things happening in the show.

Jens Jacobson plays Eddie Birdlace. The interesting thing about the role of Eddie is that you aren’t sure if you like him or you think he’s a terrible person. This happens throughout pretty much the entire show. While the character is ultimately redeemable, I can see how it could be a tough role to play. Jacobson does a wonderful job in making Eddie relatable, in spite of all the character shortcomings. Even though you want to smack him for some of the things he does, you also want to hug him for some of the things he does. That, my dear readers, takes talent.  

Boland, played by Taylor Kelly, hires a woman to help him win the contest, even though this breaks the crude rules of the game. Margaret French plays Marcy, the loud and rude woman for hire. Both Kelly and French embodied their roles, essentially becoming the representation of the worst parts of humanity. Boland has no remorse for his actions throughout the show. Marcy is so jaded from her life that she has no room for kindness or pity for anyone; looking out for only herself.

Rose becomes the representation of the best parts of humanity, with her genuine kindness, her hopeful outlook on life, and her ability to give second chances to those who appear to be undeserving of such.  Eddie Birdlace becomes that grey area. The place where the unredeemable becomes redeemed, the point where you see light in the darkness of one’s soul.

When you add in the history of the time period, and the eventual outcome of the Vietnam War, along with the reprehensible way that the returning Vietnam veterans were treated, it allows for the slight redemption of even those darkest characters on stage. A child of a Vietnam vet myself, I couldn’t help my heartbreak for each and every character on that stage, but especially those in the military.

The book and music by Pasek and Paul have so many touching moments and some truly elegant lyrics and harmonies. “Pretty Funny” is perhaps my favorite song in the show and Audrey Johnson brought tears to my eyes with her performance during this scene. “Some Kinda Time” showcases some amazing harmonies by the entire cast of the show and really pulls the audience in from the beginning of the show. I loved the Marcy/Rose duet, “Dogfight.” Margaret French and Audrey Johnson play perfectly off each other in this scene and their voices blend beautifully.

This show is certainly the kind of show that can touch anyone, of any age. It’s a lesson in life, what “pretty” really is, and how much a single night can change a person. When I added in my personal connection because of the Vietnam era, I feel like it was near perfection for me. Direction by Cathy Street was wonderful and the set (designed by Randall Pike) was remarkable, considering the size of the stage and the number of different locations in which the show takes place.

Honestly, I have been trying to find someone to go back and see the show with me since I saw it on opening night. With Street Theatre Company celebrating their 10th season by offering pay-what-you-can tickets, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go see this show. You can purchase tickets on their website and the show runs through June 21st at Bailey Middle School in East Nashville.    

My ticket to see Dogfight was a comp ticket because I wrote a preview piece about the show for My opinions are my own and in no way are affected by the status of my ticket. 

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