What if all it took to determine whether you lived or died was your date of birth? This was the worst nightmare come true of over 850,000 18-26-year-old American males back on December 1, 1969, when the United States government held its first “Draft Lottery,” the losers of which were virtually assured a one-way ticket to Vietnam.
Playwright Diana Amsterdam takes us back to this not-so-long-ago reality in her gripping new play The Dodgers, now getting an exciting World Premiere at the Hudson Mainstage with as star-studded a 20something cast as you’re likely to see all year in a 99-seat production.
Writing from personal experience, Amsterdam takes us back to the night of that very first lottery as a quartet of fearful 22-year-olds sit glued to the TV waiting to hear whose birth date will be called first, then flashes forward as the unlucky among them attempt to find a “dodge” that will exempt them from military service.
The quartet of aspiring rock bandmates—lean and sexy Mick (Asher Grodman), cute clown Chili (Eric Nelsen), cool, smart, African-American Simon (Corbin Bleu), and sweet, lumpish Sidowsky (Jared Gertner)—could hardly be a more eclectic bunch, the latter’s working-class background making him stand out like a sore thumb amongst the sons of a dentist, a banker, and an Ivy League college dean. (Adding fuel to Sidowsky’s fears is the knowledge that the ones most likely to serve and die are the have-nots, a fact brought home by his older brother’s death in Nam.)
Completing The Dodgers’ cast of characters are Mick’s non-exclusive flower-child girlfriend Patti (Talisa Friedman) and her mirror opposite, the no-nonsense Jane (Emma Hunton), whose job with a dodge-providing MD might offer hope to at least some of the boys, regardless of whether or not said physician is the honorable man Jane insists him to be.
Plenty of movies, plays, musicals, and TV shows have centered on the era of Free Love and Frequent Drugs better known as “The ‘60s,” but the particular story Amsterdam tells in The Dodgers is one that has been largely forgotten, and just as AIDS-era dramas can educate those too young to remember the plague, The Dodgers should prove an eye-opener to post-Booomers, while providing a powerful journey down memory lane for those who were its protagonists’ age back in ’69.
Some script tweaking might help clarify a couple characters’ motivations in saying or doing things that had this reviewer wondering, “Would they really say or do that?”
Still, even as stands The Dodgers is a compelling new play punctuated by just enough laughs, a NYC-L.A. hybrid that could easily have East Coast legs as directed with assurance and punch by Dave Solomon and performed by a cast as pitch-perfect as the one on the Hudson Stage.
Google the uniformly sensational Bleu, Gertner, Grodman, Friedman, Hunton, or Nelsen and you’ll find film, TV, and stage credits galore, and The Dodgers gives each of them at least one scene in which to truly shine.
The Dodgers looks absolutely stunning on Michael Carnahan and Ann Beyersdorfer’s meticulously detailed farm house-turned-commune set, exquisitely lit by Jen Schriever and Ben Green, with L.A. costume design superstar Ann Closs-Farley recreating the hippy-dippy ‘60s to perfection. Diablo Sound and Alex Mackyol’s sound design is equally topnotch.
Casting is by Daryl Eisenberg, CSA and Darryl Eisenberg Casting. Derek Carley, Jenna Carley, and Xavier J. Watson are understudies.
Brian P. Kennedy serves as music supervisor. Angela Sonner is stage manager. Shen Heckel is assistant director and assistant stage manager. Justin Ryan Brown is production manager and Evan Bernardin is general manager.
The Dodgers is presented by Ashley Kate Adams, AKA Studio Productions, Jim Kierstead Productions, Katherine Lurie, Richard Hayes, Joel David Nisson, and Michele Wilson Jones.
Having lived through the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, I found The Dodgers particularly riveting, but you don’t have to be of a certain age to find yourself captivated by its six young protagonists and their uncertain futures. Add to this the most star-powered cast in town and The Dodgers is sure to be one of early-2016’s hottest tickets.
January 30, 2016
Photos: Michael Lamont