|Culture wars foreshadowed: folkie Rose gets acquainted with Eddie.|
The setting is San Francisco in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy is sending marines over to Vietnam as "advisors." Peter Duchan's book, with songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, throws at the audience six rough-and-ready jarheads (a fighting word they're proud to reserve for themselves) preparing for a last night out stateside with pickup dates.
The show's title has a double meaning, to explain which would put me into spoiler territory. It's important that the audience only become aware what's really going on just before Rose, a naive but politically sensitive waitress sweet-talked into a date by Eddie Birdlace, catches on. This couple, sweetly and searingly played by Leela Rothenberg and Patrick Dinnsen, as seen Sunday afternoon, set themselves apart with difficulty from the coarse game the marines have cooked up.
Emily Ristine Holloway directs "Dogfight" with an initial emphasis on the foul-mouthed warriors'
|The jarheads demonstrate their readiness for what's to come.|
Brimming with "Semper Fi!" spirit, the half-dozen macho marines are filled out in this production by Terrence Lambert, Isiah Moore and Matthew Conwell. Early in the show, they rock deep into the audience's collective sensorium with "Some Kinda Time" and "Come to a Party," accompanied by a briskly effective band led by Nathan Perry. The choreography they inhabit so completely is the work of Lily Wessel, with Cherri Jaffee.
|Marcy (Elizabeth Hutson) knows when a party is not just a party.|
Though the performance level remained high, the show itself suffered a falling-off in inspiration after the crucial duet of Rose and Birdlace following "Ticker Tape Parade." "First Date/Last Night" seems to me "Dogfight"'s best song, and it was beautifully staged. It's one of those love songs that apply a skeptical or distancing twist to the powerful sentiments expressed.
It comes from a strong tradition, represented less starkly in older musical theater by "Almost Like Being in Love" ("Brigadoon"), "People Will Say We're in Love" ("Oklahoma!") and "If I Loved You" ("Carousel"). Stephen Sondheim twisted the ambivalence somewhat tighter in such songs as "Barcelona" and "Send In the Clowns," where the negative sides of love compete with the magnetic force of the attraction.
Melodically and verbally, "First Date/Last Night" has a Sondheimesque flair and tartness, and it comes at just the right time to give "Dogfight" its distinction. Maybe it's just the excellence of this song that made the remainder seem like filling out a love-vs.-war formula. Even so, it's a formula invested here with quite a bit of sentimental strength, as well as unflagging commitment.
[Photos by Michael Camp]