LCP’s ‘dogfight’ a battle of the sexes
By Marilyn Jozwik
Published July 8, 2019
With its young cast, Lake Country Playhouse’s “Dogfight” has the energy and verve of a high school musical.
But while there are some rockin’ tunes, crisp dancing and overall high energy, there are serious and complex overtones that are not lost on this cast with their mature performances.
Rooted in a similarly titled movie, “Dogfight,” directed by Ami Majeskie with Justin Spanbauer (who plays Boland in the show) serving as artistic director, is probably unfamiliar to most, having opened as a play in 2012. It mostly takes place in San Francisco in 1963, where three Marines are spending their last night before being shipped out to Vietnam. The three --Boland, Bernstein (Henning Mahn) and Birdlace (Eamon Schiro) – are hellbent on having the time of their lives with an evening of women, booze and a visit to a tattoo parlor. They call themselves “The Three Bees.”
And just a fair warning to audiences: There is lots of locker room talk-- including plenty of words not suitable for young ears – that is meant to capture the tone and demeanor of the military men, who brag about their sexual prowess and masculinity with salty language, often at the expense of women.
The centerpiece of their evening is a ritual called a “dogfight” in which each recruit puts $50 in a pot. They rent out a hall for the night and then try to find the ugliest girl to bring to the party. The winner gets the pot of cash.
Borland finds Marcy – a tough-talking prostitute with a grotesque smile – who is on to his game and is willing to play for a part of the pot. Birdlace, on the other hand, sees Rose (Ashley Sprangers) in her mother’s diner quietly playing a guitar and singing in the corner near closing. He hands Rose a line about the party and convinces her to go with him. Rose is excited beyond words to go on her first date, not knowing the true reason for her being asked.
When Rose meets Marcy in the ladies room at the party, the worldly call girl fills her in on why they are all there. Rose is humiliated and furious. She storms out, slapping Birdlace – and giving him a large piece of her mind -- and returns home. But while his two buddies go off on more misadventures, Birdlace feels remorse. He goes back to see Rose and she agrees to going to a fancy restaurant and then returning with him to her place. He is gone the next day.
The show’s bookends see Birdlace returning to San Francisco in 1967, after his service in Vietnam.
“Dogfight” starts off as a fun romp by a bunch Marines on their last night before deployment – almost a “Grease Goes to Vietnam.” But it gradually becomes darker as their cultish male rituals become more and more abhorrent. Their youthful bravado collides with the reality of war in a wonderfully staged fight scene in Vietnam near the end of the show. The scene, however, ambushes the audience, turning the mood, quite suddenly, melancholy.
Sprangers as Rose is the female rebuttal to the indignities suffered by young women at the time, a time that was changing. Sprangers couldn’t be better. She exudes a shyness and goodness adding an expressive countenance that makes the audience feel her pain at being humiliated and root for her attempts to transform the boorish Birdlace. Her voice is sweet and clear, filled with emotion. When she sings “Nothing Short of Wonderful” while picking out a dress for the party, she practically jumps out of her skin with exuberance.
Schiro’s Birdlace provides a gorgeous vocal pairing with Sprangers, especially on the lovely “First Date”/” Last Night” tune in which Schiro’s effortless tenor voice jabs and weaves around Sprangers’ beautiful soprano.
Schiro, Spanbauer and Mahn are a fine choice for the rowdy, raunchy trio, convincing in their typical male roughhousing and in-your-face exchanges. Schiro grows nicely as Birdlace, his rough edges softening to Rose’s gentleness, but then finds he can’t shake the grasp of his buddies’ influence.
This is a top-notch cast all around. I especially enjoyed the Marines ensemble, which also included Jack Costa, Michael Ginn and Samuel Williams. Their rockin’ “Hey Good Lookin’” features good vocals in abundance, and confidently executes Majeskie’s choreography as the soldiers try to round up girls for the night. The dynamic scene also features the capable female ensemble of Audrey Trecek, Emily Norton and Eleanor Wenker. Matthews really handles the street-wise Marcy well, sparring with the men with equal swagger. She explains the rules to Rose in “Dogfight,” a passionate diatribe about how the game works. “Don’t expect justice, that’s not how they’re made,” she tells the innocent Rose.
Adding just the right accents to the show are two veterans, Timothy Barnes and Rebecca Richards. Like a chameleon, Barnes jumps into several scenes, blending perfectly where needed, portraying a sergeant in the Marines song and dance numbers, a tattoo artist and, his biggest role, a lounge singer at the party. Richards, too, is very versatile, playing a stunning blonde the guys ogle, Rose’s hard-working mom and, finally, a hippie in 1967. Those small roles provided glue for several scenes.
Music director Phil Smith on piano heads a fine five-piece band. I especially enjoyed Yeng Thao’s haunting strings on ballads such as “Give Way.” There is some lovely music here, and the band takes great care with it. But they also rock out on numbers such as “Some Kinda Time,” as the young soldiers plan their night.
A tip of the Marine cap to costume designer Heather Patterson for creating crisp, well-fitting uniforms for the Marines and others, as well as to Philip Shuler and Terri Fields for the set design and construction, which included a Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco Bay scene. Fields had previously provided some outstanding sets and I was happy to see her work again on stage.
Just a note to go easy on the fog machine, especially at the beginning when, on opening night, a white cloud totally obliterated the two performers.
If you go
Who: Lake Country Playhouse
When: Through July 21
Where: 221 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland