reviewed by Bobby Franklin
SpeakEasy Stage Company is closing out their 25th anniversary season with a very strong production of Dogfight directed by Paul Daigneault. The New England premiere of the musical is based on the 1991 film and screenplay by Bob Comfort, and with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Most of the story takes place on November 21, 1963 and focuses on three young Marines, Eddie Birdlace, Bernstein, and Boland who refer to themselves as the Three Bees. They are to be deployed the following morning to Southeast Asia and are embarking on a game the Marines call Dogfight. It is where each recruit puts up money that is pooled and will be awarded to the man who can bring the ugliest woman to a party they are having. It is demeaning to women but also serves the purpose of removing any sense of empathy from men who are about to be sent into combat.
Eddie, (Jordan J. Ford) finds waitress Rose Fenny (Alejandra M. Parrilla) at a local dinner and sweet talks her into attending the party with him in the hope he has found his winning date. Rose is caught up in his flattery and is thrilled to go. The others are also finding their mates for the evening.
It would be easy to settle in at this point and see this play as being about women being objectified. It runs much deeper than that. While what the Three Bees and the other soldiers are doing is cruel, it is also juvenile and demeaning to them as well. But, they are required to give up much of their sense of humanity considering they will soon be in a very inhumane environment. They are young and, because of their weeks of basic training, feel prepared for anything the world will throw at them. Instead of this being about a group of young men acting like jerks,
it has much more serious overtones considering what is about to happen in their livesand in the world.
Rose is no victim. While she is deeply hurt when she finds out what Eddie was up to, she is also touching him deeply with her warmth and confidence. Eddie at first saw an overweight and insecure girl, but fast begins to learn much about himself and life from Rose. He finds it is not so easy to be cruel. As the story unfolds we are touched on many emotional levels. As one audience member stated after the performance, “I have learned to always bring a box of tissues to a SpeakEasy production.”
The play does have a number of funny and warm moments that will make you smile. Alejandra M. Parrilla as Rose and Jordan J. Ford as Eddie are simply wonderful in the restaurant scene where Rose shows she can match Eddie’s tough guy bravura as well as add a very strong wit. Her kindness is also infectious and is breathed in by Eddie. Their touching duet First Date, Last Night sung while gazing at San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful love song.
As the story moves forward in time, much has to be compressed and Director Paul Daigneault does magnificent job of putting so much into so short a time on stage. It really is a bit overwhelming but important as it conveys so many feelings that force us to think hard about all we have just seen.
Ms Parrilla and Mr. Ford are supported by a solid castthat includes Jared Troilo (Boland) and Drew Arisco (Bernstein). Patrick Varner will be suffering from a multi personality disorder after playing seven parts, but he handles every one of them just fine.
The theater is set with the audience sitting on three sides of the stage. This, along with two movable staircases, is extremely effective. A beautiful score, fine musical direction, and the intimate atmosphere along with this cast have very talented young actors makes this a play not to be missed.
I know I often say this after seeing a SpeakEasy production, but I left the theater with much to think about, and with much to feel.
We are lucky to have such a great company in Boston.I hope you go down to the Calderwood Pavilion and spend a couple of hours being touched by these fine young actors.
Playing through June 4th at The Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, South End, Boston