Saturday, July 27, 2019

Coronado Playhouse “Dogfight”: A Rare Combination Of Macho and Compassion.


“Dogfight”, based on the Warner Bros. film and screenplay by Bob Comfort, caught the eye of director Teri Brown several years ago. She fell in love with the music and wanted to direct a production of it since. Her wish has come true; she is in fact the director of “Dogfight” now on stage at the Coronado Playhouse through Aug. 25th.
Sara Ah Sing as Rose
Some might question why? Some might look at the piece and say, “Put it to bed”. Some might be tempted to boo, some to clap. It’s politically passé. It’s abusive. It’s hurtful and it’s hard to watch.  It’s all that and then some.

It’s light; it’s dark. It’s a musical and it’s a drama. It’s weighty and it’s raw. It’s dreamy and it’s realistic. It’s heart breaking and it’s cathartic. In all its an excellent theatrical experience, one that will make you think, and wonder how far we’ve come since 1963, or not.

“Dogfight” the pop musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) and Peter Duchan (book) is a look back at a time we were losing our innocence to a war, the assassination of our young president and the disregard we had for our returning servicemen and women.

To some the term Dogfight means an aerial battle between fighter aircraft conducted at close range. The phrase was coined during WW I and that’s what I had always known the term ‘dogfight’ to mean. I have also known that in some circles, gals who are not the prettiest or have the best figure were referred to as dogs…or as Boland (a power house Connor Boyd) so aptly puts it: “To find us some droolin’ and slobberin’ dogs, sir!”
Adam Sussman as Eddie and Sara Ah Sing as Rose
In Eddie Birdlace's (a sweet Adam Sussman) life, dogfight is a rather nasty game played by Eddie and his fellow Marine buddies, (The “3 Bees”, Birdlace, Bernstein (Kyler Waitley) and Boland, “We Three Bees”…have a mighty sting) just for fun and money. They all put $50.00 in the pot to see who can snag the ugliest girl in town, take her ‘on a date to a dance’ where unbeknownst to the girl, each couple is judged, and the guy with the ugliest looking dog wins the game. (“That Face”)

At the dance, Michael Harrison’s, the sleazy Lounge Singer who gets paid to do the judging, holds up numbers and in the end the highest number wins the pot.  They all agree to stick it out at the dance ‘till the ‘fat lady barks’. That information alone was enough of a turnoff for me. But the show goes on.

This atypical musical is set as a memory play that begins in 1967 but segues back to 1963 when all this mess began. President Kennedy committed to send ‘military advisors’ to Vietnam, a country so many naïve young twenty something GI’s never heard before. In the play the Marines we meet up with refer to it as a ‘little country near India’.

It is The Three Bee’s last night before shipping out to Okinawa (“Some Kinda Time”) and a war they feel combat ready, after five months of training, to fight and save the country from Communism (something the French were unable to do for decades). But for now they have invaded San Francisco and are looking to stir up some excitement.
Adam Sussman and Sara Ah Sing
It is here that Eddie wanders into a family owned diner at just about closing time and catches the eye of the young waitress off in a corner strumming her guitar. Her no nonsense mother (Andrea Pullman) urges him to leave and her daughter to get busy with her chores for the next day.

Rose Fenny (charmingly innocent Sara Ah Sing) is shy and akward and Eddie oblivious to it all, makes conversation that challenges Rose’s musical know how.  She’s as unsure of herself as he is or seems confident. She’s as afraid as he appears sure -footed and as naïve as he thinks he is worldly. It’s almost a ‘clash of the titans’. She is influenced by the Martin Luther King “I Have Dream” speech and is into the “We Shall Overcome” mentality and he thinks he knows about music, but has a long way to go.
Sara Ah Sing and Danica Waitley
With a whole lot of coaxing and B.S. on Eddie’s part, he convinces her to go to the ‘dance with him’. (I’ll take your hand Rose and twirl you around…”) But when Eddie gets to the planned destination, he has second thoughts. He might have made a mistake in his choice yet when meets up with his buds that are ready willing and able to show off their ‘dogs’ there is no turning back.

Boland, the bawdy leader of the 3 B’s, manages to talk experienced and street smart hooker Marcy (Danica Waitley) to play the game after he agrees to share the jackpot with her.  Kyler Waitley’s Bernstein drags Ruth Two Bears (Ariel Sheridan plays several roles), who barely understands what’s going on, but she plays along.

Things go from bad to worse when Marcy pulls out her teeth and becomes a mangy toothless mess in order to look her utmost awful. Waitley’s Marcy is a hoot as the hooker adding some much needed lightness to the situation that is growing nastier by the minute. 

Cast with Sara Ah Sing and Adam Sussman coming home after the war.
When Rose comes into the hall in the most matronly looking maroon dress (Pam-Stompoly-Ericson and Ryan Dietrich) that makes her look chunky and more unattractive, all eyes are on her.  Oblivious to all going on around her, the inexperienced, soft spoken and good-natured Rose is in heaven and can’t get over the fact that she is out on her first date.

The activities begin and Eddie is reluctant to participate. Rose is baffled by the whole thing, drinks too much and winds up in the Ladies Room with Marcy who proceeds to let her in on the gag. “It’s a dogfight”.  She’s furious (“You are a cruel, heartless, ignorant jerk”) and is all but ready to have Eddie become the first casualty of their group but instead tells him that she hopes he dies.
Sara Ah Sing ("Pretty Funny")
At home and in bed she sings a heart wrenching “Pretty Funny” that just about unglued yours truly as she recapped the evening. There’s nothing funny about what just happened to her but in a convoluted and self -depreciating mood, she sings “Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it funny? For a moment he convinced me I could be pretty. "Funny.”

The musical love story “Dogfight” is just that. It’s musical love story at odds with itself featuring a group of young men with raging hormones about to go off to an unspecified war on a quest to make the most of their last night of freedom, no holds barred. They are looking for love in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons and yet a tender love story emerges from the ashes of a near disaster. 

As raw as it is, and it is raw (the F Bomb is thrown about as easily as one might say hello) both Eddie’s and Rose’s orbits begin to close in on one another. Uncanny as it might sound for these opposites that have nothing in common seeing them change right before our eyes is nothing less than beautiful especially of you are a romantic as is your truly.

The chemistry that grows before us becomes more intense as each character matures in his or her own way, both realizing their potential, yet too timid to take the first step (“First Date/ Last Night”), makes the outcome promising.
Ah Sing and Sussman
Sussman and Ah Sing are a good match and they seal the deal with conviction, she with her naivety and charm and he with his growing vulnerability, while his machismo fades and something like feelings seep in. It just takes a long time for it to percolate. Both actors young and vulnerable, might help their character's credibility by projecting more, using facial expressions and body language that is more persuading.  

Overall the ensemble good as it was, was a bit on shaky ground opening night but it will get tighter as the actors settle in. My biggest complaint has to be the lack of authenticity of the uniforms worn by the men. For a play taking place in Coronado the hub of a huge military presence where it would be so easy to get it right, it’s unconscionable for the uniforms to look well… so wrong, untidy and not very uniform.

Musical director of The Dogfight Band Nina Gilbert and her brave six piece ensemble in the background sounded perfect while Patrick Mayuyu’s choreography, simple as it looked is precision right. Xavier Luevano’s lighting design works well on the two tiered set designed by Karl Bunker and Jerry Young’s sound, especially when Rose and Eddie sing together or she alone,  oft times gets lost in translation inside the deep cavernous set. 

None of the young Marines in “Dogfight” ever gave thought to what the actual fighting would look like. To quote Rose: “When you shoot at people… you get people shooting back”. 
Mayuyu precision marching  with Sussman out in front
And so it was. The Vietnam War took over 47,000 of our finest. 11,00 non- combat deaths, over 150,000 were wounded and 10,000 went missing. From 1963 until 1975 when South Vietnam surrendered to North Vietnam we still bare the scars.

Many tears were shed at the end of this production. And so it is about wars that the good, the bad and the ugly get caught up in it whether we want to or not.  

Hats off to Teri for holding fast to her dream.

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through Aug. 25th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-435-4856
Production Type: Musical Drama
Where: 4855 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: Start at $22.00
Web: coronadoplayhouse.com
Photo: Ken Jacques

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