John Henry Stamper
Westfield High School
"Semper fi, do or die!" is the war cry that resonated with everyone witnessing the gut-wrenching battle in the West Potomac theater. Dogfight powerfully portrayed the bravado, cruelty and dehumanizing effects of war. The superb lighting, booming sound, and impressive musical harmonies immersed the audience in a theatrical experience demonstrating the importance of love and humility in overcoming hate and violence.
Set in the heat of the Vietnam War in November 1963, the plot focuses on three Marines named Eddie Birdlace, Bernstein, and Borland. These men are close as brothers and set out for a wild night of adventure in San Francisco the night before they deploy. The men participate in a "dogfight" to see who can bring the ugliest date to a party. Despite the humiliating nature of the dance, Eddie falls in love with the gentle, modest Rose Fenny only to ship out the next day. He soon experiences the abominations of warfare: bullets whizzing by, bombs dropping from the sky, and friends dying in front of him. He is utterly transformed and when, ultimately reunited with Rose, they mourn for the loss of friends and their true humanity.
Dogfight is anchored on strong chemistry between castmates, high energy, and spectacular lighting and sound. The jarheads illustrate raunchy banter through vulgarity, all of which is built on inappropriate behavior. The cast delivered on the challenge of a multitude of physically and vocally taxing songs with vigor and excitement, which displays the breadth of the cast's musical talent. In addition, the precise and quick lighting changes in the entire production constructed diverse moods, thus complementing the diversity of emotions on stage.
Once Eddie returns from war, he is a fundamentally transformed man. Josh Stein displayed this change effectively, accurately depicting PTSD and its atrocious symptoms. Stein wowed the audience with an impressive upper range and falsetto in multiple songs. Sophia Farino (Rose Fenny) also shows off her talent by playing the guitar live on stage along with astonishing vocals.
The band of brothers were a pivtotal ensemble, with Tony Lemus playing tough guy Boland and Julian Worth portraying perverted, yet reluctant Bernstein. Lemus created a southern accent for his character and displayed powerful vocals. Worth brought high energy to the stage, particularly in the dance numbers. The men were bonded by their shared experiences on and off the battlefield.
The technicalities in Dogfight were like a cherry on top of a perfect sundae. The clear-cut light and sound cues augmented the musical's intriguing mood. All of the technical aspects were formulated completely by students and took an astonishing 13 hours to assemble. The attention to detail with an extensive 110 microphone cues and 102 sound effects made the action on stage seem realistic.
Dogfight was a powerful demonstration of the significant physical and emotional effects of war. Soldiers made tremendous sacrifices for their country and were faced with difficult choices. The audience was drawn to their vulnerability and rooted for them to prevail even with understanding the sociopolitical climate of the time. This powerful musical proved that there is not a happy ending to every story, but it is a worthy goal to seek compassion and love.
South County High School
The Marine with the ugliest date wins the pot! As a rowdy group of Marines prepare for deployment, the men of the Beyond the Page Theatre Company take to the streets of San Francisco for their last night of freedom in West Potomac's production of "Dogfight".
Based on the 1991 film of the same name starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, the musical "Dogfight", which featured music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and was directed by Joe Mantello, opened Off-Broadway in 2012. The musical centers around a band of Marines in 1963 who organize an event known as the Dogfight the night before being shipped to Vietnam. Each Marine bet fifty dollars and attempts to find the ugliest date and win the pot. Eddie Birdlace woos a young, naive, and socially awkward woman named Rose Fenny for his shot at the money, but quickly begins to question his participation. As the night proceeds, Eddie becomes torn between his devotion to his brotherly pals and his guilt and developing feelings for the innocent and sweet Rose.
Josh Stein leads the show as Eddie Birdlace with masterful emotional depth. He seems strong and guarded around his Marine buddies, but begins to show a sincerity and softness throughout the night with Rose. Additionally, his transformation from tough and hopeful before battle to the broken, grief-ridden, and dejected soldier returning from war is heartbreakingly believable. His chemistry with Sophia Farino as Rose Fenny is adorably awkward. Despite their seeming incompatibility at the beginning, Rose and Eddie's attraction and trust in each other somehow becomes believable and the two actors' voices blended effortlessly and beautifully.
A clear standout performer is Tony Lemus as Boland. At first glance he seems harsh and unfeeling, but Lemus brings a sense of depth to his character. As he reprimands Bernstein for not acting like a man, he alludes more fear than cruelty. Another standout is Lorna Ryan as Marcy. With strong vocals, a consistent, clear accent, and effortless comedic timing, she expertly portrays the hardened and self-pitying character.
At the center of the show is a trio of Marines who call themselves the Three Bees. They include Birdlace, Boland, and Bernstein played by Julian Worth. The three actors have great chemistry complete with playful rowdiness and brotherly teasing. The Three Bees and the other Marines work well as an ensemble with their execution of complex choreography and their authentic militaristic physicality that makes the show believable. Even though the men make some morally questionable choices, the audience can still sympathize with them and understand the difficulty of their situation.
Almost every tech crew stands out with their attention to detail and commitment to historical accuracy. With limited space, the set crew allowed for many creative directorial elements with a two-story stage representing the golden gate bridge and a thrust stage which immerses the audience into the story. Although the crews work well on their own, their true talent is in their collaborative efforts. The battle scene in the second act is a clear example of this. Complete with surround sound bomb effects, strobe lighting, and smoke vents on the stage, the audience is immersed in the action.