Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dogfight Makes Quite an Impression

by Matthew Falduto
Photos by Charles "Rain" Black (eyeguessphotography.com)

Shane Nielsen, Logan Adam Schultz, Jackson Bartelme
Cedar Rapids - Electricity flowed through the opening night crowd of Dogfight, the second production by new kid on the block theatre company Revival. The raucous audience drank and kibitzed while waiting for the show to begin. The ushers added chairs to accommodate the crowd. During the opening remarks, every announcement was greeted with thunderous applause, from thanking sponsors to just mentioning the fact that it was opening night. This was an excited, motivated crowd ready to be entertained. Fortunately, the cast and crew of Dogfight delivered, from the opening song to the final emotional moments.

The premise of the show, based on the River Phoenix movie of the same name, immediately makes anyone with a sense of decency cringe. For a group of green Marines, it’s their last night before being shipped off to Vietnam, which they expect will be an easy little bit of combat from which they’ll return as heroes. To celebrate their last night, they all throw in $50 for a ‘dogfight’, and the winning Marine is the one who brings the ugliest girl to the party. Fortunately, conflict comes when Eddie Birdlace (Jackson Bartelme) has second thoughts about the contest because he finds himself beginning to like Rose (Paige Hauer), the girl that he invites to the party.

The premise makes it hard to like the soldiers, but the actors imbue their foul mouthed strutting characters with such a sense of innocence that you quickly realize they just don’t know any better. That coupled with the fact that we all know their dreams of heroism in war are going to come crashing down allows a certain amount of pity and understanding to take the place of loathing. And of course, Eddie provides a moral center as he journeys from innocence to understanding.

Directors Brian Glick and Cameron Sullenberger write in the program that this is a love story at its core, but in my mind, it’s really not. This is a story of a na├»ve young man going through the machismo motions of what is expected of him and discovering that what matters most in the end is one simple human connection. Is Rose and Eddie’s connection actually love? You can make the judgment for yourself when you see the show. No matter what, the final moment of the show is profoundly emotional.

Bartelme is simply excellent, taking us through Eddie’s compelling journey step by step, not shying away from the really nasty moments, yet imbuing the character with just the right amount of pathos so that when he reaches the end of the journey, we feel his pain. Hauer is absolutely wonderful as Rose. Her shy moments in the beginning bring us in, and her strong moments in the latter half of the show make the crowd cheer. Both Bartelme and Hauer have powerfully resonant voices that lift the show.

Paige Hauer as Rose


Technically, the show is nearly flawless. The costumes are excellent. It is wonderfully staged using three levels with a surprisingly simple set by Joshua Christoffersen. Gerard Estella’s sound design worked well, with ambient sounds helping to create the various locations. One quibble I had was the lighting. Either the actors weren’t always aware of where they were supposed to be or the lighting design was lacking, as too often half of the actors’ faces were in shadow or a light came on a little too late to illuminate someone. Still, when it worked well, the lighting supported the tension of the more dramatic scenes. It was especially effective in the battle scene late in the show.

The orchestra, conducted by Cameron Sullenberger, is fantastic. Lovar Davis Kidd’s choreography is powerfully aggressive in an early number, "Some Kinda Time." There’s also lots of fun choreography that evokes the time period such as during "Hey, Good Lookin’."

Shane Nielsen, Logan Adam Schultz, Jackson Bartelme, and Amy Friedl Stoner
The show is filled with humor and the cast knows how to mine every funny moment to maximum effect. Special kudos to scene stealers Amy Friedl Stoner as Marcy, who perfectly navigated both the humorous and serious moments in the show, and Sara Maslowski as Ruth Two Bears, who conveyed so much with only a dead eye stare. All of the supporting actors are excellent singers clearly enjoying every moment of this rambunctiously fun show.

Dogfight is an impressive second show for this young theatre company. It’s clear Revival Theatre Company is an excellent addition to the Cedar Rapids art scene. I can't wait to see what they do next. There are only two performances remaining, so check out Dogfight if you can! The show plays tonight and tomorrow at CSPS. Tickets are available on the RTC website, here.

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