BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHT

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHT

Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; book by Peter Duchan; based on the Warner Bros. film and screenplay by Bob Comfort; directed by Paul Daigneault; music direction, Jose Delgado; choreography, Larry Sousa; scenic design, Cristina Todesco; costume design, Elisabetta Polito; lighting design, Jeff Adelberg; sound design, David Reiffel; production stage manager, Dawn Schall Saglio; assistant stage manager, Tareena D. Wimbish

Cast in Alphabetical Order:

Rose Fenny, Alejandra M. Parrilla; Eddie Birdlace, Jordan J. Ford; Pete/Sergeant/Praying Drag Queen/Lounge Singer/Waiter/Big Tony/Diner Patron, Patrick Varner; Boland, Jared Troilo; Bernstein, Drew Arisco; Stevens, Dylan James Whelan; Fector, Dave Heard; Gibbs/Stevens' Party Date, Edward Rubenacker; Peggy/Marcy/Hippie, McCaela Donovan; Librarian/Ruth Two Bears/Chippy/Hippie, Jenna Lea Scott; Mama/Suzette/Hippie, Liliane Klein

Performances and Tickets:

Now through June 4, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston; tickets start at $25 and are available online at www.SpeakEasyStage.com or by calling the Boston Theatre Scene Box Office at 617-933-8600.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTThe coming of age of America during the tumultuous 1960s is brought vividly to life in DOGFIGHT, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's exquisite little musical now being presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company of Boston. Set in San Francisco on the eve of President Kennedy's assassination, DOGFIGHT pits the innocence of youth against the harsh realities of war as three young Marines dubbed "The Three Bees" (for Birdlace, Boland and Bernstein) celebrate their last night at home with their buddies before shipping out to Vietnam.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTThe centerpiece of the platoon's evening is the traditional "dogfight," a Marine rite of passage in which the young men bet each other to see who can bring the ugliest woman to a dance. The ritual, dehumanizing and unspeakably cruel to the unsuspecting women who are victimized by it, is designed to desensitize recruits who are about to become killing machines. After all, if you can see women as objects instead of people, you are one step closer to seeing "others" as the enemy.

During this particular dogfight, however, one tender recruit, Eddie Birdlace (the splendid Jordan J. Ford), becomes surprisingly enamored with his target, Rose Fenny (the luminous Alejandra M. Parrilla). Eddie finds himself attracted to Rose's kindness and gentle affability, and it is the memory of their one night together that carries him through the horrors of Vietnam and back to San Francisco four years later.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTUpon his return, nothing is as he expected. Folk music and acid rock have replaced the innocuous pop tunes of his youth. Bell bottoms, tie dye, and floral wreaths signal the end of party dresses, tailored shirts and lacquered hair. Eddie's much anticipated hero's welcome involves sit-ins and angry protests, not keys to the city and ticker tape parades. Lost, broken and alone, Eddie has no option left but to seek solace in Rose's warm smile and arms.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTRose's compassion is devastatingly beautiful and allows Eddie a tremendous cathartic release. He is finally able to let go of the fear, rage and trauma he experienced while enduring war's brutalities. In one gut-wrenching climactic ambush, director Paul Daigneault and choreographer Larry Sousa bring those harsh realities powerfully to life. They turn a reprise of The Three Bees' earlier happy tune "Some Kinda Time" into a cacophony of mortar shells, whistling bullets, and marching boots stomping out a relentless cadence of sniper fire and fallen bodies. Within minutes, DOGFIGHT - and Eddie's world view - have shifted from naïve American bravado to stunned disillusionment. There is no glory to be found in this terrifying war, only anguish. The impact is unforgettable.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTIn DOGFIGHT Pasek and Paul use telling musical motifs to illuminate character or signal the passage of time. Rowdy pop rock sparks The Three Bees and their fellow Marines into action in the early going, while country-inflected folk songs foreshadow Rose's transition from wall flower to flower child. Biting irony laces the dance music that drives the dogfight contest to its conclusion, while tender ballads reveal that there's more to Eddie than a cocky corporal or to Rose than a shy waitress.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTAs Eddie, Ford is simply remarkable, tightly wound and dying to be a man but silently wondering if the way to be a good solider is to swagger and treat women shabbily as Boland does or to be polite and treat Rose respectfully, as his parents would. It is clear that Ford's Eddie is still wet behind the ears, but he infuses him with a discernible moral compass that suggests leadership skills are within his grasp. With Rose he is well-mannered and a little unsure, but clearly fond and genuinely impressed. In return, Parrilla's Rose is the salt of the Earth. She beams giddily at the thought of being asked to the dance by Eddie, and she transforms from a caterpillar into a butterfly right before our eyes. Her heartbreak at learning that the date is all a ruse is palpable, yet she is big-hearted enough to forgive Eddie when he sincerely apologizes. Together Ford and Parrilla make a delightful pair. They ease effortlessly through the twists and turns of their one night together, making a reunion four years later entirely believable.

BWW REVIEW: Kindness Grapples with Cruelty in SpeakEasy's Powerful DOGFIGHTIn support, Jared Troilo makes Boland a typical guy's guy - crude, loyal, and always on the prowl. Drew Arisco is the nerdy Bernstein, a follower who admires Eddie and mimics Boland - and is desperate to lose his virginity before going off to war. The woman who reluctantly helps Bernstein achieve that goal is Chippy (Jenna Lea Scott), a world-weary working girl who's had quite enough business for one night. Scott also plays Ruth Two Bears, a taciturn Native American whose silence speaks volumes during the pivotal dogfight, and a hippie whose disdain for returning soldiers serves as a two-fisted punch in the gut.

It is the superb McCaela Donovan, however, who carves out the most memorable supporting performance of the evening. As the toothless prostitute Marcy, she is both hilarious and heart-breaking, sometimes in the same instant. Donovan's Marcy knows exactly why she was invited to the party, and uses that knowledge as leverage to get what she wants from Boland. She accepts her lowly lot in life but refuses to be made the victim. She snaps, crackles, and pops her way through funny line after funny line only to punctuate her comic delivery with a knowing look that exposes every pained nerve ending. Hers is a masterful performance wrought with hilarity and humanity. She is Marcy from the top of her wild bouffant wig to the bottom of her pink platform shoes.

At a time when brutality seems commonplace and women are violated daily, DOGFIGHT speaks to the power of what is the best in us - kindness. It's an absolute gem of a musical and the crowning achievement in Speakeasy's shimmering 25th season.

PHOTOS BY GLENN PERRY PHOTOGRAPHY: Jordan J. Ford as Eddie Birdlace; Jared Troilo as Boland, Jordan J. Ford, Drew Arisco as Bernstein and the cast of DOGFIGHT; Jordan J. Ford, Alejandra M. Parrilla as Rose Fenny, and the cast of DOGFIGHT; Jordan J. Ford and Alejandra M. Parrilla; the cast of DOGFIGHT; Alejandra M. Parrilla and Jordan J. Ford; Alejandra M. Parrilla and Jordan J. Ford; McCaela Donovan as Marcy and Jared Troilo

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