BWW Review: DOGFIGHT at CenterStage Theatre- JCC Of Greater Rochester

BWW Review: DOGFIGHT at CenterStage Theatre- JCC Of Greater Rochester

You're probably not familiar with the 1991 film Dogfight, starring River Phoenix, which didn't make much of a blip in the cinematic world. Fortunately the musical adaptation experienced much more success, and the current SummerStage production of the show running until Sunday at Rochester's JCC demonstrates why it deserves a second chance from anyone who wasn't won over by the movie.

Written by Peter Duchan with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (of Dear Evan Hansen fame), and set against the backdrop of San Francisco during the height of the hippie era, Dogfight centers on the romance between Eddie Birdlance (CJ Garbin), a Marine enjoying his last night of freedom before shipping out to Vietnam, and Rose Fenny (Sydney Howard), a quiet girl who works in her mother's diner. Like many works of theatre, Dogfight is presented as a flashback, with the opening scene showing Eddie on a bus returning to San Francisco after coming home from the war and looking visibly shell-shocked.

Presented without intermission, the first half of Dogfight revolves around a cruel prank executed by Birdlance and a group of his fellow Marines, in which they're each tasked with duping an unsuspecting young woman into being their date to a party, the spoils going to the Marine whose date is the ".....homeliest." After Rose discovers the purpose of the party and of the Marines who threw it, she flees (although not before delivering Eddie a quite resounding slap to the face, which elicited the evening's most thunderous applause from the audience), and the second half of the show focuses on their reconciliation and a myriad of other issues including sexuality, virginity, consent, toxic masculinity, war, fear, and not letting oneself be defined by other people's perceptions and judgements. The show comes full circle, with the final scenes depicting a violent battle scene, Eddie's return home, and his reunion with Rose.

It cannot be overstated how uncomfortable, and even sometimes repulsed, the first half of this show made me. To be clear, this is not at all a reflection of the cast or production (both of which are excellent), but more how deeply sickening it was to witness a group of self-entitled young men so horribly mistreat and humiliate unsuspecting women based on nothing more than their appearance, especially given the current cultural backdrop of the #metoo movement. It made me squirm and look away more than once. But this was surely the author's intent, as Rose spends much of the play's second half taking Eddie to task over his misogyny and cutting through his bravado. While the play's thematic content is sometimes hard to stomach, it was immensely satisfying to watch Rose's metamorphosis from a meek and meager waitress into an empowered and self-assured woman who confronts Eddie and leads him to change, become vulnerable, and even understand real intimacy. My only disappointment came from the fact that Birdlance's fellow Marines didn't experience a similar about-face (pun intended) regarding their attitudes toward, and treatment of, women.

The JCC's production of Dogfight features young actors in college and high school, though you wouldn't know it, as the cast is exceptional. Notable standouts include CJ Garbin (Birdlance), Alma Haddock (Marcy), and Reese Holahan (Boland), though the show-stealer and truly powerhouse performance came from Sydney Howard (Rose), who's singing and acting are well beyond her years. This role could have easily been swallowed up the boisterousness of the marines and other flashy characters, but Howard's vocals and acting chops cut an extraordinary stage presence that was mesmerizing to watch. Another tip of the hat goes to Katie Keller, whose choreography made the big dance numbers a real treat.

The JCC's production of Dogfight is important, entertaining, sometimes intense, and features a plethora of talent from an extremely talented group of young people. You have two more chances to catch this show. For more information and tickets, click here.

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From This Author Colin Fleming-Stumpf

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