Dog Sees God
nytheatre.com review by Francis Kuzler
August 15, 2004
The Peanuts gang have grown up—and what young adults they have become! In this quick-paced take-off of Charles Schultz mythology, each of our favorite characters—Charlie Brown (CB), Linus (Van), Lucy (Van’s Sister), Sally (CB’s Sister), Marcy (Marcy), Peppermint Patty (Tricia York), Schroeder (Beethoven), and Pigpen (Matt)—have passed puberty with a vengeance, and have to cope with the issues of becoming adults: acting on our identity; integrating death into life; discrimination and understanding the incomprehensible genesis of violence.
The play opens with the funeral of CB’s nameless dog—you know who—who contracted rabies, slaughtered his little yellow bird friend, and was executed by Animal Control. This sudden loss of man’s best friend sends CB into a metaphysical spiral, asking his friends what happens to dogs when they die. This seemingly childlike theme will be CB’s farewell to childhood and the last of his innocent questions.
At school, CB has evolved into one of a cool group populated by Tricia, who nature has endowed with two apparent answers to the question of her gender; Matt, a germiphobe who has lost his companion cloud of debris but who violently reacts to his former cruel nickname; Van, whose contemplative self has led him to seek answers not in books but in herb; and Marcy, who has lost her physical awkwardness but who is as shy as ever when it comes to CB. On the fringe are CB’s Sister, a performance artist in training; Van’s Sister, who has been removed from society because of the danger she represents to humanity; and Beethoven, the effeminate pianist who has been the target of years of abuse both at school and at home. Ironically, Pigpen is the most vicious aggressor, threatening Beethoven verbally and abusing him with the labels “fag” and “queer.”
The meat of the story is CB’s confrontation with the clique culture his friends represent, propelled by the emergence of his deeper feelings for his old friend Beethoven. CB decides to finally do something other than what’s expected of him. This decision pushes much of the tragic action, the surprise turns of which make up most of the play’s entertaining vitality.
By far, the standout aspect of Dog Sees God is the performances, which are by turns light, poignant, and frightening. Michael Gladis creates a CB whose past life we are familiar with and who we believe has grown into the character before us. Benjamin Schrader is an excellent Beethoven, convincing in his disappointment of lost friendship and balance between worldly cynicism and idealistic hope. Jay Sullivan’s Matt is appreciatively nasty, making us despise what became of amiable young Pigpen, the dirty kid we all knew and liked. Bridget Barkan is a riot as Tricia, still in-control, and still with plenty to say about everything. Stelianie Tekmitchov gives a wonderful performance as the feckless sidekick, willing to play along as she waits for CB to finally notice her. Karen DiConcetto as CB’s Sister seamlessly changes from an annoying little sibling to a caring friend. Tate Ellington adds potent comic irony as the big-thinking Van, whose childhood wisdom has turned to banal pothead contemplation. And Melissa Picarello gives us a multi-faceted Lucy (Van’s Sister) who truly cares about CB.