Finally! I got to go on a theatre outing with one of my greatest theatre comrades, my life-long friend and co-founder of BAE Theatre, Emily! And let me tell you, nobody does opening nights quite like the BAE Theatre girls. The cherry on top for this magical evening of BAE Theatre theatre-going: we were honored to find that this production of Dogfight (music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, with book by Peter Duchan) put up by the After Hours Theatre Company featured a whole slew of BAE Theatre designers! Lighting by Andrew Schmedake, prop design by Shen Heckel and set design by Justin Ryan Brown were each superb, as expected. After seeing the insane production quality of this show, we were reminded of how lucky we are to have worked with some of the best designers in LA!
Ok, so enough with the ode to BAE Theatre. Now, back to the Dogfight. So, although the production quality was top notch, Emily and I talked for a LONG time after the show about the content itself. This show brought up a lot of strong feelings for us, especially regarding the opposite sex. Just to catch you up to speed, Dogfight takes place in 1963, in the midst of the Vietnam War. When a slew of Marines are deployed in San Francisco for nearly 24 hours, they commence their tradition of the Dogfight, a night of drinking and dancing in which they boy that brings the ugliest girl goes home with a sizable amount of prize money. Eddy (Payson Lewis) somehow convinces Rose (Nicci Clasped), an aspiring folk musician working as a waitress, to join him for the evening's festivities. She is beyond flattered and of course under the impression that this will be nothing but a normal date. But wouldn't you know, it's not until she comes down from her apartment, all dressed up for the evening that Eddy realizes that well, she's actually kind of beautiful and maybe not dog status at all after all.
The music is great. I can't say I left whistling any of the songs to myself, or postponed all my life's responsibilities to memorize a sizable amount of the score, like I did with Dear Evan Hansen. But it was performed well and I did have some visceral feelings set off by the music at times. We thought the choreography was great. However, as Emily pointed out, considering that this musical adaptation of the 1991 film was written about five years ago, even though it takes place in 1963...the viewpoints of the story itself seem somewhat dated. I wonder if this has anything to do with why the show never made it from Second Stage to Broadway. In the story, we are gradually moving out of an era in the media and film in which war was somewhat glorified. So I'm sitting there watching these guys (and really, they're great, there are a handful of triple threats up on that stage) and I'm asking myself, and yeah, I actually wrote this down in my notebook, If I were seeing a musical that took place in the present day, and I was watching a group of soldiers sing a joyful number about how excited they were to come home from the war, would I be happy for them, or would I be focusing more on how they're probs republicans? In a way that's not a completely fair comparison, as 1963 was a time of draft, and not everyone was fighting voluntarily. Also it would be extremely ignorant for me to assume everyone currently employed is a republican. However, that's the image I'm receiving from the media today. There's also hint of a somewhat unusual toxic masculinity looming in the play. Rose, with the exception of Marcy (played by Emily Morris) is essentially the only substantial female character. She only communicates with Eddie for the entire show; she has no interaction with any of the other male characters. Which means male characters are only interacting, at least in scripted text, with other male characters. On that note, there is a scene, that I personally found textually horrifying on a number of levels, in which Bernstein (played by Trent Mills) goes with the marines to a whorehouse in San Francisco to lose his virginity. The prostitute tells him no, that she's too tired, then things get somewhat aggressive, as in he nearly assaults her, and then she begrudgingly tells him yes, that he will be her last client for the evening. In the world of the play, even a prostitute can't say no to sex. Wow. Also, lets just acknowledge that this young man is having his first time with a prostitute, one who is pressured into sleeping with him at that. One of the men comments that their fathers and grandfathers before them participated in this tradition, and that these same patriarchs had instilled the tradition of the Dogfight. These young men are sacrificing their lives for our country, dying for us. That's heartbreaking; wars certainly tear families and relationships to pieces. This story also exemplifies how through generations, it has been instilled that the pleasure of these soldiers comes at the cost of a woman's discomfort. It's something to think about. And maybe the story is trying to get me to do exactly that. Or is it?
This show brought up a lot for me concerning my feelings towards men. At the end of the first act, Rose heroically tells Eddie off (slaps in the face and everything) when she learns about the truth surrounding the Dogfight. She even tells him that she hopes he and all the Marines present die in Viet Nam, even though she is a pacifist and protests the war by her true nature. End of act one. And I'm sitting there, partially like "YAS queen!" and also like "Well it's only act one so we know she's gonna go back to him in act two; this is musical theatre after all." Throughout intermission I was processing how yes, the concept of the Dogfight is extreme, for theatrical purposes. But otherwise, guys do this type of stuff like, ALL the TIME. Telling you that you're pretty, that they like your style, that you're good at something, that they want to read your work, or see you act or hear your song, that they "like" you. In act two Eddie tells Rose that he likes her. And I got pretty emotional. Based on personal experience, it's hard to believe that phrase holds any significance anymore. I actually felt bad for her in that moment because I'm thinking, "whoa, this is like, the mac daddy of all the boy lies." So what this show makes me want to change about myself is that I'm raising up my standards again. There have just been too many times when I've handed out free passes to guys, when they don't follow up like they said they would, when I have to go out of my way often to accommodate their location or schedule. Paying for stuff more than he does. On the page it might sound like I'm being difficult here, but really, I've been very accommodating with men over the past year and it's time to stop wasting time with anything less that what I need. I can be accommodating, but this show made me realize some things I wouldn't have put up with like six years ago, things I've let cloud and diminish my relationship standards a little bit, comparatively. Done with that.
I know what you're thinking, "Whoa, she is dramatic!" But isn't that kind of what theatre's supposed to bring out in people?
I apologize again if this was supposed to be more about this particular production and ended up being more about the script itself. However the LA Times writeup won't tell you much more than the plot-breakdown anyway, which makes me question why our focus isn't leaning towards any individual performances? Again the production value is superb; this is really a quality rendition of the show. Emily and I applaud that the show is directed by two women, although we would have interpreted the closing scene much differently if we were sitting in the directors' chairs. But when it comes down to the "why now," we both agreed that the show's timeliness was based it its composers' very fresh Tony nominations for Dear Evan Hansen, as well as their trending original score of La La Land. There's a built in fan-base, primarily comprised of quasi-hipster white people chomping at the bit to buy $40 seats to support a 99-seat show on theatre row by some very trendy composers. The timing is smart for that reason, but forgive me for failing to see how producing this show now is helping the city of LA, at such a dynamic moment in history. Theatre can be a catalyst for change in our society and maybe I am missing the bigger picture, but from where I stand, I felt like this was a little step backwards. Regardless, the production value is on point, and if you want to get another taste of Pasek & Paul's music (which is popular for a reason), check out Dogfight running at the Hudson through Sunday June 25th.