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reviewed by Adam Crowe

Depending on your level of Theater Geek-osity, you may or may not be aware that, in addition to lots of wonderful professional and community theaters, Indianapolis is home to some terrific theatrical educational opportunities. Tarkington Civic Theater, Actor’s Theater of Indiana, Footlite Musicals, and many other area theaters have Youth Programs. One local program for high school aged performers is not tied to a particular theater. Summer Stock Stage operates out of Park Tudor School. It offers 2 different productions every summer and the productions that I have seen have been of a high caliber. Such a program, though, can leave graduates who go off to college without a place to continue their growth once they are home for the summer.

Summer Stock Stage addresses this problem for their alumni with an emerging artist program called Eclipse. This is the second Summer for Eclipse, which produces at The Indy Fringe Theater. This summer’s offering is Dogfight, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and Book by Peter Duchan. A true Theater Geek might recognize the names Pasek and Paul as the authors of the much better known musical Dear Evan Hansen. Before writing that Tony Award winning musical, the pair adapted a film by Bob Comfort about some young soldiers in 1963, who plan one wild night before shipping out of San Francisco. The title refers to a contest: the winner is the soldier who brings the ugliest date to a party arranged for just that purpose. The story follows three friends and their choices on that fateful night, focusing specifically on Eddie and his “date” Rose.

Rose Eddie

Rose (Leela Rothenberg) and Eddie (Patrick Dinnsen) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

The subject matter is a perfect fit for the youthful Summer Stock alums, and this show is as professional as anything you will see in town. Director (and Eclipse founder) Emily Ristine Holloway assembles a remarkably talented cast that tells a sometimes heart breaking story about boys struggling to learn what it means to be men and the girls caught up in their lives. BFAs Patrick Dinnsen and Leela Rothenberg play Eddie and Rose, and both are magnificent. The rest of the exceptional cast is made up of John Collins, Matthew Conwell, Hope Fennig, Aaron Huey, Elizabeth Huston, Courtney Krauter, Terrence Lambert, Joey Mervis , and Isaiah Moore. There is not a false note in the bunch.

Birdlace Rose Marcy Boland

Birdlace (Patrick Dinnsen), Rose (Leela Rothenberg), Marcy (Elizabeth Hutson), and Boland (Joey Mervis) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

Simon Roberts has designed a simple and effective set, beautifully lit by Michael Moffat. Costumes are by Jeanne Bowling and Aaron Wardwell and are wonderfully effective (especially upon Eddie’s return to the States). The music, directed by Nathan Perry, is as professional as the young actors onstage, and Lily Wessel’s choreography is suitably exuberant.

Boland Birdlace Bernstein

Boland (Joey Mervis), Birdlace (Patrick Dinnsen), and Bernstein (John Collins) in a scene from Summer Stock Stage’s production of “Dogfight”

Dogfight is not a light and breezy summer musical, but it will touch your heart. This is not a show for those too young for high school. But for the rest of us, it is a soulful journey – and one that is well worth taking.

Eclipse’s production of Dogfight is presented through June 17th at The Indy Fringe Theater’s Basile stage, located at 719 East St. Clair Street, Indianapolis. Tickets may be purchased by visiting the website at http://www.summerstockstage.com or at the door. Sold out performances should be expected.  

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