Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Also see Jeffrey Bruce's review of Newsies
In 1967, U.S. Marine Eddie Birdlace (Alexander Zenoz) is on his way back to San Francisco from Vietnam. As he contemplates what awaits him at the end of his bus ride home, he is transported back in time to 1963, just before he and his friends left the states to serve in Vietnam. Suddenly, he is once again with those fellow Marines, all fresh out of basic training. At eighteen and nineteen years old, they are headstrong and hungry for action, both on the battlefield and in the bedroom. Despite the strength of their individual and group convictions there is a callowness upon which those beliefs are founded. They set forth to participate in an unofficial Marine tradition of holding a "dogfight": a party at which each participant contributes $50 (about $350 by today's standards); part of the money goes to pay for alcohol, food and entertainment, and the rest is given to the Marine who shows up with the ugliest date.
Eddie convinces a somewhat plain looking waitress named Rose Fenny (Hannah Benitez) to be his date for the dogfight that evening, but regrets it almost immediately when he finds her to be attractive in so many other ways that she is no longer plain to him. He clumsily tries to save face with his friends and honor his feelings for her at the same time. It is a growing-up experience for him that never truly gets complete closure as he is deployed the morning after their date. At the end of the musical, Eddie returns to San Francisco where he must pick up his life with a new set of beliefs gained from the past four years.
A talented Hannah Benitez is incredibly engaging as Rose Fenny. She has an impressively natural connection to the character, and we readily get her sense of humor as well as her take on humanity. The fact that she plays Rose with a strong sense of self, rather than being overly shy and vulnerable, makes her all the more charming and likable. Her emotional delivery of the song "Pretty Funny" is one of the highlight of the show.
Alexander Zenoz is heartfelt as Eddie, struggling to sort out what is going on in his head from his heart and his hormones. Beneath the brash belligerence of a young Marine fresh out of basic training, there is still a glimpse of an earnest young man of conscience trying to find his way in the world.
Alexa Baray has some nice acting and singing moments as the sloppily drunken Marcy, especially when she "belts her face off" in the title song. Sabrina Lynn Gore and Ben Sandomir have good cameo moments as Rose's mother and Lounge Singer respectively. This productions suffers from some serious miscasting, however. Too many of the male actors are physically too old or out of shape to convincingly play 18-19 year old servicemen right out of basic training. This is something that can repeatedly take the audience out of the moment, and interrupt the whole process of suspension of disbelief.
Director Patrick Fitzwater's staging is surprisingly uninspired and repetitive. When there is only sparse choreography the staging needs to have more layers and purpose. Aside from the performance of Hannah Benitez and a few others, this production feels hastily thrown together, and not up to the usual standards of Slow Burn Theatre or the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The Slow Burn Theatre production of Dogfight will be appearing through November 29, 2015, in the Amaturo Theater of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. For tickets or other information, call 954-462-0222, or visit www.slowburntheatre.com.
*Indicates member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States