Friday, October 3, 2008

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

It's a pretty dark version of the Peanuts gang.

Snoopy mauled Woodstock and had to be put down. Lucy was put in a mental institution for lighting the Little Red-Haired Girl's hair on fire. Linus smokes pot. Pigpen is a bully. Sally's a Wiccan, or at least she is this week. Peppermint Patty and Marcie pour booze into their milk cartons so they won't get caught drinking during school.

And what about the round-headed kid? Charlie Brown is just as messed up as the rest of them. He's somehow, despite his premature balding, managed to work his way into the popular crowd. He seems to have gone through life in a haze, accepting the high-school atrocities around him, standing idly by as kids are beaten and victimized. It's the death of Snoopy and a sudden connection with Schroeder, who was outed and has been hated by everyone in the school since then, that finally wakes him up and leads him to question the hate and chaos around him.

John Gibbons does a good job navigating his way through CB's awakening. You can tell he's struggling a bit, not entirely sure how to break from his old circle of mean, popular friends, or even if he wants to. The best part of his performance, however, is at the end, when he turns angrily on his former friends and even on his memories of Schroeder, and later yet when he finds some comfort in the words of his faraway pen pal.

(A brief word about the names, like CB, before I go on -- all the characters' names are different than in the Peanuts comic strip, whether a slight change from Marcie to Marcy or a large one from Pigpen to Matt, a misogynist, homophobe and bully who eschews his former nickname. Wikipedia suggests that this could be either to avoid copyright infringement or for artistic effect. I very much doubt it's the former, since legal protections for works of satire would apply. Generally the references to Peanuts are obvious, but oblique. But it is entertaining to see the occasional direct reference -- for instance, when Marcy accidentally calls Tricia, "sir," and Tricia responds, "You've got to stop calling me that.")

Lee Vander Boegh, who plays Van, the play's version of Linus, has the stoner philosophy dialogue delivery down, trotting out such timeworn high-as-a-kite classics as "nothing is something" and transitioning randomly into the topic of neutrons.

Brandon Bilbao does a wonderful job as Matt. He's very believable as a popular bully, particularly when he's forced to confront CB's relationship with Beethoven (Schroeder). Bilbao allows you to almost understand where Matt's coming from, but makes you hate him nonetheless.

Geneva Stevahn and Carissa Linder are simply excellent as Tricia and Marcy, who have an insult for every occasion (usually something along the lines of, "Survey says: You're fat!"). But their meanness masks other things that are going on -- Marcy is downright desperate in her quest for popularity and a prom date, and Tricia's clearly trying to hide her attraction to Frieda by calling her names.

Andrea Haskett as Sally wasn't the strongest character, but provided some great laughs during her first angsty teenage poetry dramatic reading. Her recital is in earnest (as it should be), making the performance somewhat reminiscent of the Star Wars kid.

Rob Tromp does a fine job as Beethoven, who's become an angry loner and is neither ready to completely come to terms with being gay nor to overlook his treatment at the hands of his peers.

Aimee Nell Smith, who plays Lucy, is definitely a highlight of the show. She's in just one scene, when CB comes to visit her in the psychiatric ward. Smith does a wonderful job, alternately emotional, warm, and sarcastic. She's yanking CB's chain half the time, yet the other half she's the closest thing he has to a psychiatrist.

A few of the actors seem pretty old to be playing high school kids, but it's forgivable.

Dog Sees God is worth going to if you're in the mood for a good dark comedy. But don't be surprised if you're crying a little at the end.

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