Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
nytheatre.com review by Robin Reed
December 14, 2005
You're all grown up, Charlie Brown! In high school. Identity crises. Raging hormones. Still recognizable, though, is that signature wardrobe—the yellow shirt with the zigzag around the bottom.
Well, Chuck's shirt is about the only resemblance here to the original Peanuts gang. Bert V. Royal's play Dog Sees God takes this familiar cast of characters and paints them with extremely bold and broad strokes. It works, and it is one of the more fun and engaging pieces of theater I've seen above 14th Street in a while.
There is a game in it for the audience. Whether you were born in the '80s or you're in your '80s, you know Charlie Brown. The shirt. The fun part of DSG is trying to figure out how the rest of the gang turned out. Just who is Van, that dreadlocked, pot-smoking burnout-to-be? Well, when he tells you that the most traumatic moment in his life was when his friends held an intervention between him and his blanket, you know it's Linus! And what about the cleancut, obsessive-compulsive hand-washer? My, Pigpen, how you've changed! Who are those two Britney Spears-Jessica Simpson pseudo-lesbian wannabe's? Of course! Peppermint Patty (who is now going by "Tricia") and Marcie, who still calls her gal-pal "sir."
As fun and clever as Royal is in stretching the cartoon kids we all know into stereotypes of a modern day teen, he actually speaks very strongly to the amount of intolerance young people outside of "the norm" face during what most parents say should be "the best years of their life." Sexuality, out in the open and closeted, is the big issue tackled. And Royal hits it full on. If a teenaged boy plays the piano instead of football, does that make him a "fag"?
Trip Cullman's savvy direction does well by Royal's play, bringing heavy topics to light with a sense of humor that never outweighs the topic at hand. He strikes just the right balance of Peanuts signatures (from CB's stiff comic-strip posture to that silly "dancing" from the old Charlie Brown Christmas Special), using the quirks as seasoning rather than serving it up as the main dish.
Every member of the cast gives a top-notch performance. I can't really choose favorites but I must, however, make particular note of Logan Marshall-Green's tormented Beethoven, simmering and simmering to the point of unexpected rage, and Keith Nobbs's lovably dope-y Van. I went to school in Amherst and know from some stoned hippie kids. He nails it.
The stellar design team rounds out the experience. David Korins's weathered and decaying backyard serves as a perfect backdrop for this cartoon world to come to life. The play moves from scene to scene, from a colorful house party to a sterile and oppressive classroom to the padded walls of the loony bin (you've just GOT to see it!), seamlessly with clever mini-sets on wheels. Costumes and hair/wigs by Jenny Mannis and Erin Kennedy Lunsford, respectively, do just enough to suggest the eight-year-old styles of these kids hilariously updated.
Oh, and the title. Gosh, I should have mentioned this earlier. Snoopy's dead. I'm not giving anything away here—those beans are spilled right away. The rest, though, is for you to find out and enjoy for yourself.