In “Dogfight,” showcased in Citrus College’s Little Theatre for one weekend, director John Vaughan found a way to melt toxic machismo into soft, clumsy young love.
Based on the screenplay by Bob Comfort, “Dogfight” takes place in San Francisco in the 1960s, and touches upon the social change brought by the Vietnam War; clearly, a difficult feat to illustrate in the limited space of the Little Theatre.
The musical did all it could–– shuttling such large props as tables, chairs and beds through the tiny backstage exits is a risky business.
The real charm of this production, which might have otherwise seemed a bit force-fed and claustrophobic, was in the staging, the actors’ portrayal of the characters’ deeply rooted innocence, and the music.
The first act, adorned with the boyish harmonies of rowdy, freshly-trained servicemen, slugs through itself as the audience watches these boys begin planning a wild party with a bet: The Marine with the ugliest date wins a bunch of cash, dubbed a “dogfight.”
And yet, “Dogfight” evolves into much more than a testosterone-crazed humiliation fest.
Eddie Birdlace, played by the appropriately charming Robbie Johnson, meets Rose Fenny, a sensitive, intelligent waitress, and convinces her to come to the party where the bet will take place.
Rose finds out about the terrible deal between the boys, and actress Brittany Tangermann delivers an emotionally impactive performance with the song, “Pretty Funny.”
For a couple seconds, the music slowed to a stop and her cries echoed bare in the silence, creating a bitingly intimate moment that demanded empathy.
Eddie is––deservedly–– plagued by her sorrow, and catches some teasing from his two close companions, Bernstein (Anthony Napier) and Boland (the absolutely hilarious and energetic Josh Tangermann.)
Towards the end, the production grows its clumsy, lovable wings as Eddie and Rose give each other a second chance–– the night before Eddie is leaving to Vietnam.
Gentle Rose and angry Eddie rise through the script thanks to Vaughan’s direction, allowing Brittany Tangermann and Robbie Johnson to depict truly relatable characters.
One last feature worthy of mentioning, is the music. Wendy Turk, music director and pianist, was an unstoppable force of energy.
Waving composition with one hand and pounding away at the keys with the other hand, she delivered the sort of spirit than any musical production team craves.
Kudos to the cast and crew. A show with so much masked violence was lightened considerably through the tones of change, hope and love.
Even still, “Dogfight” was able to bare its teeth.