Adapted from the 1990 film of the same name, Dogfight the Musical, opened at Artswest on Thursday. Taking place on November 21, 1963, the eve of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, three teen-aged U.S. Marines spend their last shore leave in San Francisco, before shipping out to Viet-Nam. While there they look for girls to bring to a “Dogfight,” a party where the guy who brings the ugliest girl wins a door prize. Like many adolescent boys in men’s bodies they have both contempt for, and insecurity about, women for which they overcompensate with macho posturing.
Except our hero, Eddie Birdlace, played by Kody Bringman, who asks a shy bespectacled waitress, to whom he is attracted by her folk music singing( this was in the heyday of folksingers like Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary whose protest was focused not so much on Viet-Nam as on the Civil Rights Movement). During the night, he has second thoughts, develops compassion, learns some new rules of behavior from his date Rose, played by Devon Busswood, and admits to his insecurities.
Although Mathew Wright, the new artistic director at Artswest, put together an extremely good production with a competent cast, interesting choreography, a terrific set which worked well for several quick set changes including the Golden Gate bridge, a good orchestra, in short everything that is necessary for a stellar production except a good script.
The plot was slight, there was about enough material for a short one act play. Especially tedious was the first act, where the exposition went on and on, scene after scene, song after song, establishing that these Marines were extremely under-evolved male Homo sapiens. Neither the music nor the lyrics were particularly interesting and there was only one scene with anything like comic relief in the whole play.
In my opinion, physically Artswest is not the greatest place to stage musicals, the stage being too small, with the audience sitting about a foot away from the dancers,(and in this case a battlefield). Musicals need distance so that the whole spectacle can be observed. Having recently seen The Mountaintop at Artswest, a two-person play about a real live imperfect person deeply embedded in a moment of history, I was disappointed by how little the script dealt with the real issues of Viet-Nam, or why were these particular people were going off to war rather than college. Any kind of backstory about the other two Marines in the story was missing.
Dogfight. Artswest, 4711 California Ave SW. West Seattle, WA 98116 Wed.-Sat 7:30 Sun. 3:00. Monday Nov. 3 Industry Night. Thru Nov. 22 Tickets: www.artswest.org or (206) 938-0339