Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on the 1991 film that starred Lili Taylor and River Phoenix, the musical is a memory play set mostly in 1963 San Francisco. Eddie Birdlace and his two best friends Boland and Bernstein are three Marines spending their last 24 hours in town before shipping out to Vietnam. Their plans for the night include participating in a Marine tradition called a "dogfight"a contest in which the soldier with the ugliest date wins a pot of cash. The women they find to bring to their party, who have no idea that they are the victims of this cruel joke, include Rose, the sincere, pensive and slightly shy waitress Eddie stumbles upon in a diner. The shame that Eddie feels once the truth is revealed sets both characters on a journey of self-discovery set against the changing times of the 1960s.
Peter Duchan's adaptation sticks fairly close to the outline of Bob Comfort's screenplay. Bookending the acts with scenes set several years after the night of the dogfight, with Eddie looking back at the events in his past, shows how quickly the world has changed, with people involved in the peace movement looking down on the returning soldiers, and adds a beautiful element of remembrance and redemption to the story. Pasek and Paul's tuneful score features an abundance of upbeat ensemble songs as well as reflective character solos. While the ending is slightly abrupt and the plot is fairly simple, it is a well-constructed tale of a blossoming and somewhat awkward, yet poignant, romance.
Director Shelby Maticic has assembled a talented cast who all create realistic characters. As Rose, Kinsey Peotter doesn't make one false move. She interjects this lonely, but mostly happy, woman with multiple layers of delicate nuance that instantly and instinctively depict the awkward nature of a girl with a hunger and desire to be seen in a romantic way. Rose's willingness to give Eddie a chance to redeem himself is delivered so naturally by Peotter that it expertly displays the growing strength of Rose to take control of her own destiny. While understanding Rose's reasoning to overlook what came before, it is easy to feel protective of this somewhat fragile woman and not want to see her get hurt again. Peotter's strong, clear and beautiful voice also excels on her many songs.
As Eddie, Joshua Lindblom may not be quite as subtle in his delivery as Peotter, with gestures and facial expressions in the earlier scenes that are just a hair too direct and forced, but he still does well in evoking the delicate changes that Eddie makes based on his encounter with this fascinating woman. Lindblom is also quite good in showing how Eddie is conflicted and has second thoughts, turning away from the macho, chauvinistic expectations and demands of the Marines with their code of brotherhood, and becomes quite sympathetic as he sets out to make amends for his past digressions. Maticic's direction paints the budding romance between Rose and Eddie with a perfect, delicate stroke that, when paired with the refined performances of Peotter and Lindblom, provides a keen and clear sense of innocence, vulnerability, and a yearning desire for acceptance.
As Eddie's buddies Bernstein and Boland, Ryan Malikowski and Nicholas Gearing create clear archetypes of proud Marines who believe they are immortal and are unaware of what their future will bring in the then unknown country of Vietnam, while also making each man distinct. Malikowski's shy, manic nature as Bernstein is a nice counterpoint to the street-smart sense that Gearing brings to Boland. The duo, along with Lindblom and their fellow castmates who play the other soldiers, also display an appropriate sense of comradery. Amelia Huot interjects a big dollop of sass as the scrappy, no-nonsense prostitute Boland brings to the dogfight. Kevin Fenderson plays a few small parts with ease.
Brian Maticic's multipurpose and multilayered set doesn't elicit a clear sense of the various locales in the story, but it does provide numerous playing areas for the action to unfold and shows a smart way to portray Rose's bedroom. CJ O'Hara's music direction is exceptional, achieving some lovely harmonies from the cast and expert playing by the three-piece band that makes them sound much larger. Jessie Tully and Shelby Maticic's costumes and Tully's hair and makeup designs are period perfect and excellent. However, while this small show works well for Brelby's intimate space, some of the cast could project a bit more to be heard, even in some of the quieter moments.
Dogfight is a tender and sweet story about forgiveness and change. With a very good cast, distinctive direction, and an excellent band, Brelby Theatre Company's production is a lovely presentation of this quiet, dramatic, romantic, thoughtful and intimate musical.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of Dogfight runs through August 5th, 2017, with performances at 7154 N 58th Drive in Glendale AZ. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781.
Book by Peter Duchan