Cygnet Theatre’s new season is off to a promising start with a heartfelt production of the little known musical Dogfight. Based on an obscure 1991 film starring River Phoenix, Dogfight tells the story, through Peter Duncan’s book and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s music and lyrics, of a young, Vietnam-bound Marine and the woman he comes to love. But Dogfight is much more than that. After humiliating Rose (Caitie Grady) in an “ugliest girl” dance contest, macho Marine Eddie’s (Patrick Osteen) better self aches to emerge. As an unlikely relationship grows during the course of the last night before Eddie is shipped overseas, he allows himself to become vulnerable in front of the insecure but brave woman he hurt so badly.
The rare stage musical where every song actually advances the story, Dogfight is engrossing on both psychological and historical levels: What’s inherent in the DNA of a trained soldier, and what does it mean to be a man? Where, in men and women, does beauty reside? You can also appreciate Dogfight for its two leads. Grady is soulful and profoundly sympathetic as Rose; Osteen’s Eddie is a subtly complex portrayal of a heart and mind divided by expectations and by a war that in turn divided a nation. A musical score that is honest and un-showy, plus a memorable supporting cast, complement these winning performances. The Sean Murray-directed Dogfight will stay with you and stir you.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.