ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca College Theatre brings back the spirit of the Sixties and the harsh memories of the Vietnam War in its upcoming musical “Dogfight.”

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Composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with a book by Peter Duchan, and based on the 1981 film, the musical tells the story of a group of Marines who organize a “dogfight” — a cruel game whose purpose is to determine who can bring the ugliest girl to the party. But when Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, an apparently plain waitress, she challenges his assumptions about skin-deep beauty.

“In Birdlace, we have the tragic American flaw: the over-confidence, ethnocentricity, inequality, judging other people for what they look like: race, ethnicity, gender, appearance, sexual orientation, identity or disability,” Director Wendy Dann said.

According to Dann, “Birdlace comes from a post-WWII generation of optimism and arrogance,” the world of the sitcom ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ which depicts a troubled middle-class, American boyhood.

“Is that piece of American Pie, so convinced that it must rid the world of communism, pieced together by a history of bigotry, misogyny, and violence? The men in the play are participating in a dehumanizing ritual, after basic training and before combat,” Dann said.

In contrast with Birdlace, “Rose represents empathy in this play” and teaches it to the Marine.

“What it means to look at another person and see another person. It’s a really important journey for Birdlace, and for an American audience,” Dann said.

(‘Dogfight’ logo provided.)
(‘Dogfight’ logo provided.)

The audience also learns about the Vietnam War and the Marines’ disillusionment when they returned to America after the war.

“The Marines who returned from the Vietnam War expected to receive a ‘Hometown hero’s ticker tape parade’ and they were shocked by the lack of gratitude from the American public. These characters are prepared for battle, but not for the jungle, and not for the lack of empathy when they return home,” Dann said.

Dann serves as assistant professor in the Theatre Arts Department at Ithaca College. Her play, “The Strangest Thing,” was a finalist for the 2010 and 2012 O’Neill Theatre Center’s National Playwrights Conference. The ten-minute play “Brother Love” was a finalist for the Arts & Letters Drama Prize and was included in the Winter 2014 edition of Stone Canoe. Dann also received the 2013 NYFA Fellowship in Playwriting.

She praised “Dogfight”’s cast and said they are “really brave” to tackle such a difficult piece.

“‘Dogfight’ is a tricky musical. It would be easy to think of this musical as ‘On the Town,’ where you see the sailors ‘hit the city’ and have a good time. The original screenplay is highly sensitive to the issues of gender and violence and we have tried our best to do the same,” she said.

Performances will take place in Clark Theatre on March 31 and April 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. as well as on April 3 and 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased at the Ithaca College box office in Dillingham Center or online at ithaca.ticketforce.com. Audiences are advised that this production contains mature language, sexual content, violence and images of war.

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