Macho misogyny, lost innocence and the transforming power of love are the pithy themes of the musical “Dogfight.” Adapted by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from the 1991 film about a cruel Marines ritual, the show proves just how talented the pair was before their current Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen.” North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s affecting production is one of its strongest in several seasons.
It’s 1963 and Eddie Birdlace and his pals Boland and Bernstein, all Marines fresh out of boot camp, are on their last night in San Francisco before shipping out to Vietnam. They participate in a crass Marine “dogfight,” a betting pool that rewards the one who brings the ugliest date to a nightclub contest.
At a diner, Eddie spots shy, inexperienced waitress Rose. Unaware of the reason he invites her, Rose is thrilled to have her first real date. When Rose finds out the truth, she’s heartbroken. Eddie convinces Rose he’s sorry and invites her out to dinner, where his attraction to Rose blossoms.
The musical doesn’t hold back in its depiction of military macho culture, with its crude treatment of women and its profanity-laden braggadocio. The material is so in-your-face that intermission is a welcome relief. Thankfully, the second act, although somewhat slower than the first, brings out the best in Pasek and Paul’s songs and Peter Duchan’s dialogue. Eddie and Rose’s opening up to each other, along with Eddie’s near-breakdown after four years of fighting, retain their emotional impact long after the show ends.
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Director Timothy E. Locklear has assembled a first-rate ensemble, each character appropriately cast and vividly performed. Sarah Griner Duncan’s choreography adds depth to the story, from testosterone-fueled posturing to deadly battle maneuvering. The production is tightly paced, with knowing little details that enhance the storytelling.
Matt Verner establishes Eddie’s conflicted feelings early on and reaches moving heights in his second act romancing of Rose. He has great chemistry with Rebekah Holland, who fills Rose with charming innocence, moving forgiveness and openhearted love. Both have attractive singing voices and provide the show’s musical highlights.
Christopher Maxwell’s hard-edged, cold-hearted Boland and Andrew Faggion’s goofy, eager-to-please Bernstein prove that good acting can flesh out stereotypes. The same holds true for Mary Reilly’s take on prostitute Marcy and Grace Gilmore’s taciturn Ruth Two Bears, each an audience favorite. The rest of the cast supplies admirable support.
Mike Raab and Mike Anderson’s serviceable set of platforms and steps allows quick scene changes and free-flowing staging. Jenny Mitchell’s costumes and Ann Boivin’s wigs firmly set the time period. At Friday’s opening, Jeremy Diamond’s lighting design was still being finalized, as was the volume levels of the pre-recorded music.
The harsh subject matter may be hard to take, but the possibility that love and understanding can effect change makes the show a worthy two hours of theater, especially in such sympathetic hands.
Where: North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, 7713-51 Lead Mine Road, Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. July 21-22, 28-29; 3 p.m. July 23, 30
Info: 919-866-0228 or nract.org