BWW Review: Brelby Theatre Company Presents DOGFIGHT
Premise: No woman should ever suffer the indignities and abuses of male chauvinist pigs.
Okay, now that I assume we all agree on this moral imperative, let's look at DOGFIGHT, the Benj Pasek and Justin Paul play that tees off this theme and features a trio of Vietnam-era Marines on leave after thirteen rugged weeks of basic training and one day away from shipping off to chaos with no other noble goal than winning a cash prize by dating the ugliest girl in town.
Mind you, this songwriting duo is incredibly talented, having won this year six Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen and an Oscar for La La Land's City of Stars ~ all of which is to say that they have evolved mightily from their sophomoric and muddled effort at a musical with a conscience. Their 2012 play is based on Nancy Savoca's 1991, film starring the late River Phoenix and Lili Taylor and affording more nuance and development of character and emotion than is visible on stage currently at Brelby Theatre Company in Glendale.
All told, it's been five decades since the Vietnam War. Drawing from any one of the constellation of issues that were tearing the country apart at that time would be a feat in itself. Pasek & Paul choose to focus on the brutality of abuse and the horror of war in two acts that bridge the gulf between sin and redemption. There should be enough there, even with the passage of time, to resonate with relevance today. But, the play has more of the feel of a soap opera, punctuated by enough pelvic thrusts, profanities, and suggestive remarks to elicit audience guffaws, but not enough to make for a significant theatrical experience.
At the heart of the story is the relationship between Rose Fenny (Kinsey Peotter) and Eddie Birdlace (Joshua Lindblom). Among the three Bs (as his buddy group is called), Eddie turns sensitive and has second thoughts about exploiting Rose. In short order, a bit of a romance blooms and consummates ~ and then, it's off to war.
There are moments to be developed that are unfulfilled ~ on and off the battlefields of love and war.
What is not unfulfilled, however, is Kinsey Peotter's solid performance, a striking balance between an image of sweet vulnerability, the emergence of a woman who will not abide abuse, and a figure of saintly forgiveness. Peotter has a great voice and a talent for conveying shifts in mood and tone. She shines and injects a vital shot of adrenaline into the musical, particularly and most stirringly, when Rose returns to her bedroom and intones on how Eddie convinced her she was pretty: "Makeup won't make any difference; it's the same old face." You feel her pain.
Shelby Maticic's direction is sloppy with elements that detract from the core story. Scenes where the cast is almost falling into the front row seats. Downstage busy-ness that distracts from emotional exchanges between Rose and Eddie. Set changes that are cumbersome. Wardrobe that has Marines looking uncharacteristically unfit and disheveled and drawing equally wrinkled civvies from their duffel bags before painting the town red.
In the end, however you experience this work, the wounds of DOGFIGHT are piercing and their bite is deep enough to leave an impression.
DOGFIGHT runs through August 5th at the Brelby Playhouse in Glendale, AZ.
Photo credit to John Groseclose