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“Dogfight” at No Square Theatre


Braxton McGrath as Birdlace (Photo by Abby Matossian)

Based on the 1991 Warner Brothers film and winner of multiple Lucille Lortel Awards, it’s studded with impressive songs, an unexpected love affair, and a genuine and charming soul. 


By MaryAnn DiPietro


“The soundtrack is a bop, as the kids say!” shared Karen Rymar, gushing about the Pasek and Paul musical. Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Olivier Award-winning songwriters/producers Benj Pasek & Justin Paul are best known for their work on “La La Land”, “Dear Evan Hansen”, and “The Greatest Showman”. “Dogfight” is one of their earlier works and it is a gem.


Karen Rymar, esteemed director and longtime fixture in Orange County's theatre scene, is at the helm of this electrifying production, marking her No Square Theatre directorial debut. With a résumé boasting over 30 years of dedication to the craft, Rymar's passion for the stage is palpable. And she's not alone in her excitement—Ella Wyatt, No Square's Artistic Director, shares her enthusiasm for this edgy and exhilarating musical experience.


Karen had seen “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway and has been wowed by the differing varieties of music that Pasek and Paul put out. She jumped at the opportunity to do this show. However, she is no stranger to this theatre or to theatre in Orange County in general, as she has been seen on stage at No Square multiple times as an actor and is in her 21st year with the Orange County School of the Arts where she has served mostly as the Assistant Director of the Musical Theatre Conservatory. Karen refers to No Square Theatre as her “Heart Theatre,” so it is no surprise that when she mentioned that she would be interested in directing to Ella Wyatt, Ella said, “Of course,” and they set out on a mission to figure out what show to do. 

Brooklyn Vizcarra as Rose (Photo by Abby Matossian)

“Dogfight” was on both Karen and Ella’s short list of shows to do. Ella described it as “edgier” than past shows that the theatre has done and may be considered “controversial” by some. 


"Dogfight" packs a punch with its mix of humor, heart, and a touch of controversy. “Even though it takes place in the 60’s, it is very relevant to today,” Ella says. She is in her first full season as the theatre’s Artistic Director. Ella Wyatt describes it as a production that's as relevant today as it was when it first premiered Off-Broadway in 2012. And with a cast that's as talented as it is dynamic, it promises to be an unforgettable ride.


Both Ella and Karen rave about the cast, their voices, and the music. “There is a lot of humor but a lot of serious stuff as well,” admits Karen. “There are layers for these characters. Seeing the actors play with the funny topics and then the dark topics is exciting as they find the next thing for their character,” agrees Ella. Adding another layer to the sensational show is Christopher W. Smith, who is serving as Musical Director and steering the “bop” of a soundtrack with a live six-piece band which includes piano, bass, cello, drums, violin, and guitar. 


“Dogfight” opened Off-Broadway in 2012 and was the New York City debut for songwriters Pasek and Paul. The original cast album was released in 2013 and featured Lindsay Mendez, an OCSA Alumni, as Rose. The show received rave reviews for its writers and for leading lady, Mendez. 


The show, as described by Musical Theatre International, “It's November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a small but growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys' night of debauchery, partying, and maybe a little trouble. But, when Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, an awkward and idealistic waitress whom he enlists to win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits, she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and compassion.”

Gavin Hamze as Bernstein (Photo by Abby Matossian)

The theatre is unapologetically tackling themes that they acknowledge as possibly triggering for some including war, violence, death, alcohol use, PTSD, coarse language, adult themes, and misogynistic content. It is not recommended for children under 14. For Karen, “This musical is a little deceptive, it will hit everyone differently. The music makes you feel like it is a great time with these charming guys. But as you digest the story, you discover the cruelty and misogyny that makes the guys question their own morals.” She hopes the audience experiences, “…the rollercoaster of emotion and self-discovery that happens throughout the show.” 


With content warnings in place, the theatre is committed to providing a safe and inclusive space for all audience members. But don't let the warnings deter you—Karen Rydmar believes that the true beauty of "Dogfight" lies in its ability to spark conversation and self-discovery. Karen “…daydreams about so many things while she is sitting in the room and watching the actors grow and work…” Utilizing the small space and minimal props, Karen encourages the actors to be “authentic” and “…believes that if you have the words, you can tell the story. It's about the heart.” 


“Dogfight” is a testament to the power of theatre to move, inspire, and provoke thought. This is a journey of compassion which is as relevant now as ever. In the words of Ella Wyatt, “The mark of a good show is when you leave the performance and you want to talk about it long after the curtain falls. And this is definitely one of those.”


MaryAnn DiPietro is an actor, singer, pianist, and writer.


“Dogfight”

No Square Theatre

384 Legion St. Laguna Beach, CA

May 17-26, 2024

(949) 715-0333, www.NoSquare.org

Wyatt Pendleton and Macy Buckley as Boland and Marcy (Photo by Abby Matossian)

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