Despite an ‘ugliest’ contest, ‘Dogfight the Musical’ reveals true beauty when it opens at Wilkes University Feb. 19
WILKES-BARRE — In one chaotic moment on Wilkes University’s stage, a somewhat shy young waitress/musician gives a Marine a hearty slap, a taciturn woman throws a drink into the face of another military man and a third woman knees yet another fellow in the groin.
It’s quite a melee, and it all takes place because a toothless prostitute told one of the women the truth about a contest the men had arranged, to see which of them could bring the ugliest date to a “dogfight” on the night before they ship out from San Francisco to Viet Nam.
“It’s pretty awful,” said Gabby Lajara, 18, a criminal justice major from Brigantine, New Jersey, who plays one of the offended women in Wilkes’s production of “Dogfight, the Musical. “Go out and have fun on your last night, but don’t do something like this.”
“It shows you what people can be peer-pressured into doing,” said Justin Gaskill, 18, of Ocean City, New Jersey, who portrays one of the Marines.
“I think it’s disgusting,” said Gianna Chase, 20, a musical theater major from Scranton, who plays Rose. Her character is the young waitress, who is touchingly excited as she decides what to wear on what appears to be her first date ever.
When she finds out the Marine who wandered into her mother’s diner and asked her to accompany him to a party, a young man she thought might be “Nothing Short of Wonderful,” was part of the scheme, Rose is hurt and disappointed. Yet she will forgive Cpl. Eddie Birdlace.
“I don’t think I would,” Chase said, speaking for herself before a recent rehearsal.
But Rose does — opening the door to all sorts of poignant lessons.
“This is about who’s pretty on the inside,” director Joseph C. Dawson said.
The show boasts plenty of dancing and music — it’s reminiscent of “Jersey Boys,” Dawson said — as well as humor when the Marines out looking for dates use just about every stereotypical pick-up line from ‘I’m new in town’ to ‘It’s a miracle; I prayed for you and here you are.’”
One even resorts to dropping the name of a famous person — in this case, singer Perry Como.
The action in the play alternates between 1963, when the men are about to leave for Southeast Asia, and 1967, when Eddie Birdlace is returning to San Francisco on a bus filled with people who are sleeping and knitting and striking up conversations with strangers.
What about those three bees tattooed onto your arm, an older man asks Birdlace.
“Don’t mean nothing, Sir,” he replies. But of course, those bees symbolize Birdlace and his buddies Bernstein and Boland, the young men who once faced armed conflict with, as actor Paul Doherty explained, “a real nonchalance about what they were getting into.”
His character, the one who finds Rose, has a lot of unwarranted confidence about going to war, Doherty said, and he has a lack of regard for people’s feelings.
So do his buddies, said Joshua Shepard, 18, of Milford, who plays Boland. “My objective is for the audience to not like me.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Dogfight the Musical’
When: Feb. 19-28 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays
Where: Dorothy Dickson Darte Center for the Performing Arts, West South Strreet, WIlkes-Barre
Admission: $10; $5 for students and seniors; free to Wilkes students, faculty and staff