Thursday, May 12, 2016

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents The Boston Premiere of "Dogfight" - A Must See!

(Caveat: Several weeks ago I underwent rotator cuff surgery, and my right shoulder, arm and hand have been immobilized in a sling until very recently. I just began several months of post-op physical therapy.  I had been severely hampered in my ability to type, so several worthy shows that I have seen recently have not been reviewed in a timely manner.  Beginning with today, I will work to clear up the backlog.  Please be aware that my reviews may be more limited than usual until I am up to date. Several excellent shows are no longer playing, but I will highlight them, offering the assurance that when it comes time to submit my suggestions for nominations for the 2016 IRNE Awards, these shows and the people involved with them, will receive the consideration they deserve.  Thank you for your understanding and support.)

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I had no idea what to expect when I entered the Roberts Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts for the Press Opening of "Dogfight."  I had not seen the River Phoenix film, nor had I had time to research the story.  A friend accompanied me to the performance.  He had been listening to the music from the show on Pandora.  His advance warning was: "I think you are going to like this music."  He was right, but I not only liked the music, but I also found myself deeply moved and almost ambushed by a story that runs the gamut from aggressive pit bull to cuddly lap dog.  Deftly directed by Paul Daigneault, this excellent cast tell a story set in the early days of the Vietnam War, as a group of Marines spend one last night on the town in San Francisco before deploying to Southeast Asia.  These young and randy Jar Heads invoke a longstanding USMC tradition and set up a "dogfight party." Whoever brings the ugliest girl to the party wins the pot of money.

The plot thickens when Eddie Birdlace (an astoundingly good Jordan J. Ford) begins to have second thoughts about the prospect of humiliating the young waitress he has snookered into becoming his date. Rose Fenny (an equally astounding Alejandra M. Parrilla) works in her mother's diner and sings folk songs to herself.  These characters could easily have been written, directed and played as caricatures, but Mr. Ford and Ms. Parilla brings many layers of nuance to the arcs of these unlikeliest of lovers.  He alternates among arrogant, defiant, braggadocious, conning, conniving, thoughtful, clumsy, uncouth, vulgar, frightened, sensitive, repentant and vulnerable.  Whenever Eddie would call out Rose's name, I was reminded of the young Leonardo DiCaprio in "Titanic."  Mr. Ford is that good. His is one of the best performances of this Boston theater season, and it is matched by Ms. Parrilla's mixture of insecure ugly duckling who reveals a hard edge when she shows Eddie what she is made of in a memorable first date scene. They are about to be turned away from a posh restaurant by a snooty maitre'd (a wonderfully arch Patrick Varner). She takes charge of the difficult situation with a combination of panache and humor that has Eddie - and all of the audience - eating out of her hand.

Jordan J. Ford as Eddie Birdlace
Alejandra M. Parrilla as Rose Fenny
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 4th
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography

The telling of the story is enhanced with Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Book by Peter Duchan, Choreography by Larry Sousa and Musical Direction by Jose Delgado.  Lighting is by Jeff Adelberg, Scenic Design by Christina Todesco, Costumes by Elisabetta Polito and Sound by David Reiffel.

The two stars are supported by a strong ensemble.  Eddie's two best friends in the USMC are Boland (a powerful performance by the always steady Jared Troilo) and Bernstein (a wonderfully nebbishy Drew Arisco).  Together, they have been dubbed "The Three Bees," and they sport bee tattoos on their forearms to celebrate their bond as a band of Bee Brothers. Almost stealing the show as a brassy hooker with distinctive dentation is the irrepressible McCaela Donovan.  Boland has hired her to tip the scales of the dogfight in his favor, but things get complicated when Rose learns of the plot.

The Marines sing "Some Kinda Time"
Jordan J. Ford (center) as Eddie Birdlace
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 4th
Photo by Glenn Perry Photography
Additional members of this solid ensemble are Dylan James Whelan, Dave Heard, Edward Rubenacker, Jenna Lea Scott and Lilane Klein.

Standing out among the show's songs are "Some Kinda Time," Rose's solo "Nothing Short of Wonderful,"and the tentative duet between Eddie and Rose "First Date, Last Date."

Without revealing too much about plot resolutions, Eddie returns from Vietnam a broken man.  He never wrote to Rose after their one date, and she has given up waiting for him, turning to hippie antiwar ethos.  Their reunion after he returns from the war is simply staged and deeply moving.

For all of these reasons and more, I call this show a "Must See." I plan to return and see it again.

The show will run through June 4th.

SpeakEasy Stage Website



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