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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dogfight, a River Phoenix Movie, Comes to the SF Playhouse As a Musical

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 8:00 AM



Michael Gene Sullivan
  • Michael Gene Sullivan


For actor, director, and playwright Michael Gene Sullivan, all theater is political — either upholding the status quo or  hallenging it. He also happens to love musicals, saying that language is by nature intellectual, but music adds another layer of meaning to words.

So a musical version of Dogfight, a movie that starred River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, about three Marines spending t heir last night before going to Vietnam in San Francisco, was pretty much perfect for him.

“It was a sort of quirky, bizarre relationship film about feminism and wh at was going on in the '60s,” Sullivan said. “These soldiers have just been through training and had the empathy crushed out of them. This is their last night, and they’re discovering empathy, which is what makes you human. And it’s about young women demanding not to be judged by their looks — saying it’s not how you see me that’s important, it’s how I see myself.”

Sullivan says he’s one of the few people in the cast who has seen the movie.

“It was a date film for me and my wife, Velina [Brown, also an actor],” he said. “We were fans of the actors, and it was an interesting story. I hadn’t heard there was a musical and then I read the play and it was faithful to the film, and I loved the music and I liked the characterization and period.”

The movie was well received, but it not being a huge hit means freedom to explore and not live up to audience expectations, Sullivan says.

“If we were doing musical version of Lawrence of Arabia, that’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You can’t replicate that. With this, it wasn’t a huge blockbuster, so it’s not like we’ll have a bunch of Dogfight fans in the audience.”

Sullivan plays a bunch of different roles in the play–including a tattoo artist, a lounge singer and a guy on the  bus. He says that dire ctor Bill English told him he is playing characters who bump into other cast member and witness their relationships.

Along with being the resident playwright for the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Sullivan wrote a labor-oriented adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, which played on several continents, and he has appeared on most Bay Area stages, including American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Magic Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, and African-American Shakespeare. So with such a busy schedule, he has to consider what plays are worth taking on. Dogfight was one.

click to enlarge Jeffrey Brian Adams and Kathryn Fox Hart in "Dogfight" - PHOTO BY FEI CAI
  • Photo by Fei Cai
  • Jeffrey Brian Adams and Kathryn Fox Hart in "Dogfight"

“You hope to do parts different from what you’ve done before,” he said. “If you’re lucky, you get to tell stories you want to be part of.”

Dogfight Sept. 22-Nov. 7, at the SF Playhouse, 450 Post. $20-$120. 415-677-9596.

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Emily Wilson

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