DogGodarticle

 

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead takes artistic license with an iconic comic strip (Peanuts) by putting the likenesses of the core characters in a “what might have been” scenario. Tampering with a classic normally gets a “good grief” eye roll from me, but fortunately Stray Dog Theatre treats this “re-imagining” with love, respect, and a heap of gut-wrenching emotion.


There is a bit of controversy behind this story written by playwright Bert V. Royal. While the story references the characters and storyline of the Peanuts comic, the Charles M. Schulz estate has never authorized the use of his characters. Fortunately for Royal, the First Amendment – and never actually using the names of the Peanuts characters – has allowed him to explore this alternate universe. [Editor's note: For the purpose of this review we will be using both the names from the production and from the comic strip.]


CB (Charlie Brown), mourns the loss of his beloved dog who went rabid after it killed a little yellow bird. CB's sister (Sally) is searching for her own identity as she goes from goth, to Wiccan, to stage performer. Van (Linus) is a stoner whose blanket was somehow destroyed, but he rolled the ashes into a joint and “became one with the blanket.”


Wait, this isn't even the weird part.


Matt (Pig Pen) is the alpha male jock who has a tendency to verbally and physically harass Beethoven (Schroeder), who he assumes is gay since his father allegedly went to jail for sexually abusing him. Tricia (Peppermint Patty) and Marcy (Marcy) are sexually overactive party girls who curse worse than sailors. In fact, the majority of characters consistently use foul language which gave me pause on more than one occasion. My childhood cartoon characters swearing? Escándalo!


Finally, Van's sister (Lucy) is institutionalized for setting fire to the “little red-haired girl's” hair – which is an actual “off-screen” character from the comic strip whom CB has a crush on.


The real explosion of the storyline is when CB has an existential conversation with Beethoven about the meaning of life and ultimately realizes that he is drawn to Beethoven – sexually. At a party thrown by Marcy, (complete with a loosely based rave version of the legendary theme and the characters performing signature dance moves) CB kisses Beethoven in front of the whole gang. The remainder of the plot deals with the fallout of that kiss as each character is forced to deal with the fact that two of their friends are gay. While some are accepting, others are not and that is when the real drama of the story begins.


Apologies if this summary is too extensive, but this story is so delicious, so wicked, so outrageous that a lengthy explanation is warranted. Royal does a fantastic job in giving the audience enough clues for the audience to recognize who each character is by keeping most of the their signature characteristics intact, but Tricia and Marcy's characters are portrayed purely as mean girls and were the hardest to reconcile with their comic counterparts. Other than that, this production takes the audience on a wild, homo-erotic, roller coaster ride that kept me on the edge of my seat howling with laughter. 

 

Michael Baird took some time to ease into his role as CB. His first act performance was much too timid, but he found his footing in the second act and the love scenes between Baird and Beethoven, played by Chris Tipp, were simply spellbinding.


I panned Tipp's recent performance in Stray Dog's Love! Valour! Compassion! However, his portrayal of Beethoven was vulnerable, sensitive, and wonderfully touching and arguably the best performance of this talented ensemble.


Another outstanding delivery was Sierra Buffum in the role of CB's sister. Giving her role a feel of genuine teen angst served her well as she embodied the stereotype of the teenage girl. I appreciated her cynicism, her sarcasm, and her ability to cope with a rapidly changing world. 


One final nod goes to Maria Bartolotta as Van's sister. Bartolotta gave her role an edge that was fascinating. Serving as CB's female confidant, Bartolotta gave a very real, emotionally authentic performance. 


Technically, the show worked in all aspects. Rob Lippert did a sensational job in designing a simple, but effective set. Justin Been was responsible for the music selections during the show and I especially appreciated the music during the scene changes that were effective in setting the mood for the entire production.


Speaking of Mr. Been, his directorial skills are simply outstanding. While he kept the action moving at a brisk pace, it was the final scene that proved pure art. The last group scene gorgeous, emotional, riveting  left the audience holding its collective breath. 


Stray Dog Theatre creates another must-see production with Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead just in time for PrideFest. So gather up your gays (and allies) and get your tickets for this show while they last. 


Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead runs through June 20th. Please visit StrayDogTheatre.org for show times and ticket prices.


You can follow me on Twitter @ReviewerJim

 

 

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