Monday, October 19, 2015

DOGFIGHT • Stray Dog Theatre

“Dogfight” takes place in November, 1963, as a group of rambunctious young Marines, fresh out of boot-camp, head out for a testosterone-fueled night on the town in San Francisco before they ship off to Vietnam. Based on the 1991 film that bears the same title starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, Stray Dog’s season opening production, skillfully directed by Justin Been, presents a heady mix of morality, mortality and poignancy in this rousing coming-of-age story.

The title refers to a callous tradition -- a party where the Marine who brings the ugliest date wins a cash prize, and privates Eddie Birdlace (Brendan Ochs) and his two best buddies, Boland (Luke Steingruby) and Bernstein (Kevin O'Brien) plan to scour the town in search of the homeliest girl to be judged. Eddie meets a shy, guitar-playing Rose Fenny (Shannon Cothran), working in her mom’s diner, and asks her to join him for a night out, and she hesitantly agrees, excited, but with no idea of what's in store. The party is in full swing by the time Eddie and Rose arrive, and while Boland and Bernstein are anxious for the slow dance, where the dogfight entrants are judged, Eddie’s reluctance to go through with it is eventually overcome by "Semper Fi" bravado, and naturally, the evening doesn’t go well. Not all of the women are taken off guard though. Marcy (Sara Rae Womack), a shrewd street-walker in on the take, refuses to be a victim of the game. Eddie’s conscience prompts him to take Rose out on a proper date, and in the process of falling for her, the both of them (the "hawk" and the "dove") come into their own in different ways.

Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny)
and Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Peter Duchan’s book is rock solid and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s wonderful songs and impressive musical themes propel the story perfectly with beautiful melodies and thick harmonies. Under Chris Petersen's musical direction, the band sounds strong and tight (Yay, strings!!). Ochs and Cothran display an honest chemistry onstage, and splendid voices. Cothran’s acting is exceptional, and musically, she knocks her numbers out of the park, with a rending "Pretty Funny." Ochs is authentic and charming as he gives way to his moral sense. His "Come Back" is chilling. They are bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including a very versatile Steingruby and O'Brien as Eddie’s Marine pals. Womack, as Marcy, absolutely nails her number, “Dogfight”, Tracey Herweck is funny as a dead-pan Ruth Two Bears -- another dogfight entrant, and Jason Meyers effectively handles a variety roles. Rob Lippert’s scenic design features a handsome silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge, with Tyler Duenow’s lights and Gary F. Bell’s spot on costume design.

With top-notch performances, great music and creative contributions, this stirring St. Louis premiere should not be missed. Get a ticket and check it out.

Kevin O’Brien, Ethan Isaac,
Michael Hodges, and Brendan Ochs.
Photo credit: John Lamb

Music/lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm

(l to r) Sara Rae Womack (Marcy)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Rose Fenny: Shannon Cothran
Eddie Birdlace: Brendan Ochs
Pete: Jason Meyers
Boland: Luke Steingruby
Bernstein: Kevin O'Brien
Stevens: Mike Hodges
Fector: Sean Michael
Gibbs: Ethan Isaac
Sergeant: Jason Meyers
Peggy: Belinda Quimby
Librarian: Melanie Kozak
Mama: Jenni Ryan
Marcy: Sara Rae Womack
Lounge Singer: Jason Meyers
Ruth Two Bears: Tracey Herweck
Suzette: Belinda Quimby
Chippy: Jenni Ryan
Waiter: Jason Meyers
Big Tony: Jason Meyers

Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Production Director, Technical Director: Justin Been
Artistic Director, Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Wig Stylist: Priscilla Case
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Music, Vocal Director: Chris Petersen
Choreographer: Zachary Stefaniak

Cello: M. Kuba
Bass: M. Joshua Ryan
Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: Adam Rugo, Substitute 10/14, 10/16 & 10/17: Lliam Christy
Percussion: Bob McMahon, Substitute 10/23 & 10/24 evening: Joe Winters
Violin: Steve Frisbee

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