Youthful Talent, Exuberance Save a Play That is Showing its Age
There’s a lot to like about Dogfight – not the least of which are its two dynamic leads, a well-performed soundtrack complemented by a live stage band, and some clever and subtle interplay between secondary characters. And these positives more than make up for some fundamental challenges with a play that’s showing signs of age, especially thematically.
We’ll get the fraying elephant out of the room. Dogfight is a story that’s more than had its day, especially in a modern environment that embraces sexual and gender equality. Women are objects and possessions in Dogfight. The nature of the titular “game” is based on mockery of appearance. And Rose, the lead female, is too quick to forgive – multiple times – to satisfy the needs of Eddie, the lead male. We’re about two steps away from a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope.
And the references included in the dialogue – especially considering the ages of the performers (and most of the audience on opening night for whom the film She’s All That would be a more contemporary, and thematically similar production) are most certainly stretched. For example, a comparison to Wally Cleaver likely falls on deaf ears.
So that’s the biggest issue I had. I’m all in favour of presenting older works (Dogfight was written in 2012, based on a 1991 movie –ed.) – but Dogfight just seems to be of another time, without the necessary gravitas to render it relevant today.
But you should absolutely see it.
Kate Deman (Rose) and Stephen Ingram (Eddie) are wonderful. Ingram is his typically strong self – especially in the realm of musical theatre (previously shining in the delightful Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, and serving as the only redeeming part of the woeful Manuel). Normally, his performance alone is worth watching.
But it’s safe to say that Deman steals the show – and the audience’s hearts – in Dogfight. She is equal parts delightful and vulnerable. She makes the audience care about her character. And, vocally, she’s a standout. Deman’s bio is filled with musical theatre performances and she’s honed her craft well. She is the emotional and performing heart of Dogfight. From the nervous exuberance of Nothing Short of Wonderful to the heart-wrenching Pretty Funny, Deman is the rock upon which all Dogfight‘s success is built.
Overall, the cast is solid. Whether it’s Marcy’s (Jesslyn Hodgson) sarcastic, scorn-filled delivery contrasted against Deman’s enthusiastic naiveté in Come to a Party, or just the subtle, hilarious interplay between the awkward, virginal Bernstein (Patrick Avery–Kenny) and his near-catatonic date Ruth (Abbey Arnott), there are several moments in the background that serve to flesh out the tapestry of images and provide delightful secondary interplay. And Tatyana Austrie threatened to steal the show with her brief lounge-singer appearance. Only a couple of times do secondary actors unnecessarily chew the scenery, distracting from more important action – and dialogue – at hand.
The music is by far a strength of the show. A six-piece band is set up on the left side of the stage and deftly performed the musical’s songs. The only challenge with the music was that the band often overwhelmed the performers. Their volume, at times, made it challenging to hear dialogue – both spoken and sung. This only manifested itself during the first act, so it was either resolved by the crew or by the nature of the second act’s songs.
The story, largely, is secondary to the performance. Whether or not you’re familiar with Dogfight as a play or a movie, you likely won’t be challenged to guess how the play ends, or what themes are explored. There are some interesting undercurrents that are addressed (such as the idea of youth creating an idealized version of military life as a short-cut to post-military “riches”, or a too-fleeting examination of a unqualified fear of the unknown), but the focus of Dogfight is on the music, the performances, and the interplay of the two leads.
However, like youth itself, Dogfight‘s run is fleeting, with only a three-day run scheduled at the Wolf.