This weekend, the Arthur Miller Theatre buzzed with ecstatic energy and uncontainable pride during a three-night run of DOGFIGHT. I have never witnessed a musical with such raw emotional power. Set in San Fransisco in the 60s, DOGFIGHT explores the peaks and pitfalls of human experience through a realistic lens— love, death, war, and naivety culminate in a final theme of the capacity for human growth. While much of the subject matter is heavy, effortless wittiness provides balance, eliciting echoing laughs from the audience. It’s impossible not to audibly react to DOGFIGHT— you don’t realize how immersed you are until a shock pulls you back to reality.
The environment of the Arthur Miller theatre may be the perfect venue for this show— each wall lined with just a few rows of seats, the experience is intimate no matter where you are. Old televisions are perched above the rows, creatively displaying videos that draw the audience into the setting, but not in a way that overwhelms the performance. The cast of students clearly adopts their roles like a second skin. Their microexpressions and tender moments feel genuine and the chemistry between characters elevates the realism of the relationships. On top of the gut-wrenching and heartwarming theatrics, the orchestra visibly playing at the back of the stage adds another degree of genuine talent. It was refreshing— to say the least— to witness so much passion and dedication in one place.
DOGFIGHT doesn’t drag on, but rather allows just enough time for the dynamic characters to fulfill their arcs. It’s equal parts satisfying and saddening; after all, DOGFIGHT is bluntly realistic in its portrayals of war and life’s unfair battles, refusing to glaze over the grittiness of the 60s and the social dynamics of that era. The way the men talked, their speech packed with misogynistic jabs and self-absorbed ignorance, tinged with an obsession with violence, is a powerful social commentary on masculinity and war; is it an outlet? A solution? Or just a masked attempt at proving one’s worth? On the other side of the gender binary, DOGFIGHT analyzes the woman’s dilemma; can men ever be trusted to be unconditionally and honestly loving? The leading female character, Rose, is often treated as an extension of the leading male character, Eddie. I wish her character’s aspirations and confidence had been explored more outside the bounds of reactions to Eddie. However, the love story takes reasonable precedence as DOGFIGHT builds a vulnerable relationship.
DOGFIGHT was an exhilarating ride of a musical. A fervently emotional portrait of war-torn America and tough love proves that even the dark and deeply flawed is worth working for. This was one of the best free experiences I’ve had at Michigan, and I look forward to seeing more University of Michigan productions in the future.