By Mark A. Leon
On the eve of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when Vietnam was nothing more than a small piece of land thousands of miles away, a group of Marines with nothing on their minds but beer, sex and Semper Fi set out for one last great night in San Francisco before being shipped off to the horrors of war.
On the cusp of a decade of madness filled with war, death, peace, protests, rallies and division, a boy and girl meet in the most unlikely of circumstances and learn that each of them needed each other in remarkably different ways.
This is the story of ‘Dogfight’, now playing through April 15 at the Woolfe Street Playhouse. Presented under the beautiful direction of Keely Enright and musical vision of Leah Megli, the newest musical from The Village Rep on Woolfe entertains with full filled musical numbers and tearful moments of unspoken warmth and hope.
Dogfight paints a story of love and fear in the time of Camelot
On this night, the three “bees” Boland, Bernstein and Birdlace set out to keep the long-standing tradition of the Marines Dogfight alive. The rules were simple: the man who brought the ugliest date to the dance won the pot of money. No emotions, no connections, just an age old Marine act that dates back generations. In a way, it was three Marines letting off some steam and having a little fun at the expense of unassuming locals.
With hopes of finding a pansy growing dim, Eddie Birdlace stubbled into an empty diner and found his target, whom he thought could help him win the big prize. Somewhere in between the fated meeting and the voting dance at the party, that rough foul mouthed shell of a Marine found salvation in this stranger.
In the span of one night, two young and innocent adults would learn life lessons of yearning, hope, fear and love.
Alexandria Shanko and Kevin Deese provide strong performances in this emotionally driven musical. The arrogance of youth positioned against the shy uncertainty of girlhood send sparks as the two main characters begin to peel their layers and expose feelings neither had ever encountered.
It is more than a coming of age story; it is a love story filled with all the clumsiness and awkwardness we have all faced. Yet, breathing down their necks is a decade of change and a conflict that would divide a country and potentially these two characters.
In its purest moments, it wasn’t the grand gesture, but the simple moments the brought the audience closer to the couple. From the first and only dinner date to the final moments of before Eddie is shipped overseas, we are drawn into this couple who seemed doomed from the start. We find sadness in their goodbye and fear of what the horrors of war will bring to Eddie and his buddies.
Alexandria and Kevin develop and perform their characters with poise and raw unadulterated emotion, leaving themselves completely exposed to their audience.
James Ketelaar and Bess Lawson re-unite after their collaboration in the outlandishly fun What If? Production of ‘Evil Dead’ to take on the roles of Boland and Peggy, a cocky soldier and a down on her luck girl who knows her place in society. Their banter as two strangers from very different sides of the track shows tremendous chemistry between the two actors.
Patrick Arnheim, who stunned audiences with his gut wrenching performance in ‘Bent’ last season at Threshold, takes on several roles in this production from an Elvis like lounge singer to an emotionless tattoo artist.
True artistry is about finding the extreme emotions of the spectrum and having an audience relate and internalize what is happening with the characters on stage. Deese finds that moment of Zen as Eddie. As he sings “I don’t know how to come back” toward the end of Act II, the transformation is complete. What began as a youthful horse ready to ride off into the sunset, ended in a mental body bag.
War changes people, turning lions into cats, reckless youth into peace dwelling flowers. It takes a band of invincible men and makes them the prey to an unknown enemy. Somewhere, in the blood-soaked mayhem of the 60’s, two very confused and innocent people in San Francisco found something beautiful to believe in.
This musical is filled with wildly entertainment numbers that also finds a way to bring you to tears.
Dogfight will remind you of your own youth, when you didn’t know what to do on a first date or how a war in a country you never heard of could change your life forever.
It is a personal story with incredible music, lyrics and acting and a gift to be shared.