BWW Feature: Women of DOGFIGHT at Brelby Theatre Company
Brelby Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of Dogfight, opening July 14th in their funky independent space in Historic Downtown Glendale.
It's November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a small but growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys' night of debauchery, partying and maybe a little trouble. But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, an awkward and idealistic waitress he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and compassion.
I pestered director, Shelby Maticic, and actors Kinsey Peotter and Amelia Huot, to take time out from their intense rehearsal (and life) schedules and answer a few questions.
Maticic is expecting her first child, teaching, with her husband, Brian Maticic, a summer camp and running her theatre company.
JB: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I know you're up to your eyeballs, heading into tech next week. Much respect, Shelby, for getting there first and producing this state premiere. And much gratitude for taking on this material. Yes, it's beautifully written, and the music is gorgeous. But a lot of women don't even want to go there, because we are so sick of living in this culture and the last thing we want to do is present it onstage for all to see - like an open wound. Please unpack your impulse in presenting it from an artistic director/producer's perspective.
SM: I guess I've never been one to shy away from risky material. I think art is the most useful and impactful way to tackle some of these topics, and I think this script does it with honesty and beauty. The women in this show are put into an incredibly ugly situation, but they also exude a level of strength that I think many can connect to and find inspiration in. In their own ways, both of our primary female characters take ownership of the way that they have been treated by the men around them and in turn they take control of their storylines. Rose has a moment at the end of the dogfight within Dogfight that is deliciously satisfying to watch for the audience, and I know that it's one that Kinsey has really enjoyed getting to embody. Who wouldn't want the chance to stand up to their bullies? I think we all have moments in our lives that we wish we could go back to for the opportunity to truly speak our minds, defend the way we were mistreated, and reclaim dark memories as personal victories. Marcy is more than just a prostitute in this play. She essentially flips the entire dogfight scenario laid out before her. Instead of being taken advantage of, she lays out a scheme to con the majority of the marines by rigging the game in her favor. Some of the scenes are difficult to watch, to see how she's spoken to, but she's hard as nails and rises to challenges put in front of her.
Before I settled on Dogfight as the right choice for our theatre and this particular season, I listened. I like to pay attention to what the artists around me are excited about. Dogfight has been on that list for a couple of years now. Rose is an unconventional leading lady, and that resonates with many female artists. She gets the opportunity to help carry a show, but she's not a traditional ingenue. She shows vulnerability. She's real - both in emotion and appearance. It's a refreshing change. I think there's a reason that Pretty Funny started to pop up as a popular audition song. It resonates. So does the show.
As director, how do you think your being female informs the process and the overall production tone? Do you find it challenging to keep the guys' characters three dimensional?
SM: Well, I think being female informs everything I do, but it certainly affected my initial approach to the show. The first several reads of the script for me were about the female characters, and how I wanted to ensure their stories were told with dignity. Then I began to dig into the male characters, and I felt compelled to ensure that they had the same treatment. The events of the show are incredibly ugly and disturbing, but it's made clear by the playwrights that these boys are not villains.
Throughout the story, the men show an incredibly ugly side to 1960s society (one that we know is unfortunately still reflected today in many capacities), but the playwrights are clear about these boys. They're naïve. They're uneducated. They're not evil. We should want to root for them as an audience, which only amplifies the conflict that we feel as we see men in uniform treating women so abhorrently. I have a great deal of respect for servicemen and women. Many of my friends and family are either serving now, or did in the past. This production is not about turning them into evil characters, and that was something we focused on from the beginning of the rehearsal process. We've discussed how many of our cast and production team have ties to the military, and why they want to do justice to these male characters. I've also had some detailed conversations with my male cast about each of their characters and why they believe that they act the way that they do. We focused on finding explanations but not excuses.
Dogfight exposes some serious ugliness that I don't think was unique to its era or to the eons before it. Our most recent presidential Twitter storm has made your show even more immediately relevant. Is that resonating for you in the rehearsal process?
KP: Absolutely! I think this story is ageless in many ways. Not only is it dealing with the subject of treating woman literally like dogs, but it deals with the aspects of war, combat, and how we deal with those warriors as a society. These boys were promised the world! They were taught to fight and shoot and that is how we solve all the problems and when you come back from those things the world is at your feet. Yet they went out risked their lives and most didn't return and the few who did were met with hatred, disdain and were given absolutely no help. I think as a society we often forget about the individual. We just see people as what we choose to categorize them in such as soldier, gay, fat, black, woman or whatever and have forgotten that we are all just humans. The minute you lose the concept of humanity is the minute we all fall apart and I think this show deal with that directly. Rose is the person who continuously sees each individual for what they are and even though she gets upset at the behavior she shows that there is another way to handle things. That you can change things with kindness and love. Society today is still not where we should be but it's those that continue to fight and do it with love that are going to make the difference. We just need more of them to be bold and and speak out. This is why theatre is so magical to me because you can address difficult subjects that should be talked about in a way that connects to everyone somehow. This show is a prime example of that.
How does all this sit with you, Kinsey? How do you feel about playing someone haplessly invited into such a deplorable contest?
This show has been the most difficult and easiest thing I've ever done. I relate to Rose on a very personal level because I have been almost in her exact position. I have been invited on dates as a joke and dealt with those feelings many times. It's very easy for me to connect with the content but it is hard to relive the event every time. However, it has been wonderful therapy as well. Rose is incredibly brave, forgiving, patient and kind. She did what I was never able to do and that is stand up to her transgressors. Having to relive the moment every night just plain sucks but then I get to give a little back to all those people who wronged me and it means that every night I leave feeling better. It also helps that Josh who plays Eddie has been my friend for about ten years, so I know when I arrive every day that I'm safe and that when I leave every day I'm safe and it makes things much easier. I think it's very easy to get angry at the boys in this story because what they are doing is absolutely fucked up but I also try to be understanding of the surrounding circumstances. It's not all black and white. It was a different time and a mentality I don't fully understand but I can be sympathetic, because I have no clue what demons those boys will have to deal with. It absolutely doesn't make it right, nothing will when it's that fucked up, but it's what Rose would do and I would love to be a little more like her.
Amelia - you're playing a prostitute who wins a contest as the ugliest female. Your character knows the contest is going on and is a willing participant, unlike Kinsey's character. First of all, what is happening hair/makeup/wardrobe-wise to make you unattractive, and how do you do this without it turning into a spoof, a la Phyllis Diller?
Yes, the costume/makeup/hair adds to the character but there's more to Marcy that makes her the way she is on the inside. Approaching this character, I really had to think what made her be a prostitute. I had to really dive in that she is a real person, yes she has comedic moments but something happened to her that made her this way. My take on the character was that Marcy has been hurt and used so many times by men before that she honestly just gave up. She gave up on hoping that men wouldn't treat her like an object, that the next guy would be different. She realized that all men wanted her for one thing. She stopped fighting and just learned to adapt - that all men are assholes, that they can't be changed. So now, she doesn't take shit from anyone, and the men have to adapt to her new ways. And that way she doesn't get ripped off, they have to do exactly what she tells them. That's what makes her real, I think. A lot of us have been there, constantly trying to prove to men that we are more than a sexual being. That we women are actual human beings with feelings and thoughts. Marcy is smart, and men don't even see it, just like our world today. But sometimes, it just takes one guy to really not give a fuck anymore. So you do what you want and maybe someday down the road, a man will treat and see you for more than what's on the outside. And I think Marcy is still waiting for that man.
EVERYONE: What is the rehearsal vibe like, how is it going, how are you working and what are you going to miss most about the project, when it's done?
SM: This cast comes ready to work, and that is something that I greatly appreciate as a director. We laugh and we joke, which is so necessary when tackling a show with content as heavy as this, but the dedication to giving the show our time and our focus has been clear. The music is very difficult, and it required a great deal of rehearsal and refinement. It's also been refreshing to see the internal support that is offered. Encouragement after a particularly difficult song to sing, compliments after a particularly stellar rehearsal, enthusiasm for the opportunity to continue to improve. We have a lot of talented new faces in this production, and I'll miss working with them on a daily basis.
AH: The rehearsal vibe at Brelby is absolutely amazing. Everyone is so nice and accepting, and everyone in that room is rooting for you. It's very refreshing and it feels good. Everyone is extremely talented and makes bold choices, and we all bounce really well off each other. I love that, because this is my first show at Brelby, and I didn't know anyone. Now I have new friends, and that's what I love about this company. I don't feel scared, judged, or that someone is going to make fun of me. Everyone is really supportive and genuinely nice. Coming to rehearsal always makes my day better. The process has been very easy and fun. I'm going to miss everything about this process. Being with these directors really has changed me as a human being and artist. I've learned so much from my director and musical director. They taught me to believe in my talents and be a more confident person, not just on stage but in my everyday life. I'm going to miss singing this beautiful music when this journey is over and seeing all these lovely people.
KP: This is my first time working at Brelby and it has been like nothing I've experienced before. Everyone involved truly loves what they do and they are not just there to collect a paycheck and leave. They are there to create something amazing. Shelby has been super supportive and positive which is so necessary when dealing with such difficult content. I love a director that lets me make choices and develop a character based on what makes sense to me and then just helps retranslate whatever isn't resonating with an audience the way I want it to and that's exactly what I've got from her. The entire creative team are gems, like come on - our set is stupid cool - and I'm not used to being this personal with the creative staff but I love it! The cast has been incredible as well. Since day one everyone was excited to tackle this beast of a show and they have not slowed down since. It's a group of really happy, silly, positive people who are ready with a hug, a tissue and a joke whenever you need it and I love them all. I think I'll miss the entire experience when it's over. I love shows that matter and I love getting to do something that matters every night with people who matter to me. You cannot replace that and I won't try so it will definitely be a small void in my heart. I'm also going to miss Rose A LOT! She is a spectacular human and I'm definitely not ready to let her go.
Thanks again, galz.
Dogfight opens July 14 at 7:30pm. Subsequent performances are July 15, 21-22, 28-29, August 4-5 at 7:30pm and July 16, 23, 30 at 2PM.
For tickets and more information, visit Brelby's website.