There comes a time in all of our lives when we encounter a profound and immutable truth: comic-strip characters simply never age! Indeed, Charlie Brown (and the rest of Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts characters) appeared on the scene in the 1950s as elementary-school-aged children and remained in that age group for half a century. But what if these old familiar friends of ours had aged? And how would they have turned out had they come of age in the harsh realities of our current society?
Obviously, there is no definitive answer to a question like that, but Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead offers a possibility. And North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production, directed by Pete Comperatore, masterfully presents Royal’s vision. This production is funny, touching, thought-provoking, a bit shocking and, ultimately, uplifting. In short, this is first-rate theater. Be aware, however, that (as the tagline to Dragnet used to say) “The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” (Or, perhaps, it was to protect the playwright from lawsuit?)
Anyway: When the curtain rises, CB’s dog has died (and so, incidentally, has a certain little yellow bird). CB’s Sister is the only one who attended the funeral. Several of CB’s friends will express their sympathies when he next encounters them, but all of their lives had higher priorities — they simply could not attend. But where can you go with a play that begins with news of the death of someone’s faithful-companion-of-over-50-years? In response, Royal takes us through a series of encounters with several of these old friends to learn the answer to the question “Where are they now?” Be prepared to laugh!
Leo Brody gives us a CB who is every bit as earnest at Charlie Brown had been. In addition, although we never get a concrete example of Charlie Brown-esque ineptitude, Brody’s very manner gives the impression that this character would never be able to kick a field goal or fly a kite. Indeed, Brody gave us a CB that fits the “Charlie Brown as a teenager” mold so well that we have refused to let our Department of Picky-Picky whine about the fact that (1) unlike Charlie Brown, CB has hair; and (2) CB’s yellow T-shirt does not have that squiggly stripe.
Liz Webb turns in a perky, dynamite performance as CB’s Sister, a young woman who searches for her identity by immersing herself in one persona after another. We lost count, but we think Webb wore more costumes than all of the other actors combined. Watch for a splendid piece of performance art.
Liam Yates’ Vann has been forced to abandon his security blanket. Suffice it to say that his current obsession keeps him on a mellow, even-keel. Yates definitely knows the ins-and-outs of this state.
William Booth shows that he knows the essence of Matt, the paranoid bully. The script nimbly avoids actually referring to the character as “Pig Pen,” but we get it, and every reference to this connection is a hoot. Matt has reformed his squalid ways, and Boy! Has he changed!
“Schroeder&” has been renamed Beethoven, and Bryan Bunch captures his sensitive, artistic spirit. Bonus: Bunch plays a mean classical piano!
Tricia (Anna Brewer) and Marcy (Annabel Butler) positively nail the air-headed mean-girl/party-girl type. Their lunch-at-school scene is a true gem, as is their behavior in the party (and morning-after) scene. We loved the intellectual air that Butler’s Marcy keeps intact even in these circumstances. And Brewer plays Tricia’s clueless-ness to the hilt without ever going beyond the pale.
And then there is Hannah Woodcock as “Vann’s Sister.” Let’s just say that the doctor is truly “in” (or perhaps we should say “out”). Woodcock keeps her character down-to-earth, but there is a hint of wild-eyed-ness peeking out that makes it easy to believe that the pranks that Lucy pulled back in the comic strip could easily have evolved into what this character did to land herself in this setting.
Scenic designer Jen Martin Leiner has afforded a set that captures many of the Peanuts locales in one; moveable pieces easily morph the set from setting to setting. Costume designer Rachel McKay made some excellent choices for these characters. And we tip our hats to Alyssa Petrone’s lighting design as well as to whoever made the decision to create the illusion that all of the in-show music was actually being played through CB’s ear pods (really! — you will have to see the show to know what we are talking about). And there are some unexpected gags that reference the comic strip and the cartoons. (Once again: You really have to be there!)
In addition to plenty to laugh about, the show gives us plenty to think about. What is it like growing up in the jungle of modern society? Is it really so intense that the “straightest,” most mundane, most innocent children could find themselves going down-the-tubes?
There is peer pressure and bullying. There is rampant, casual teenage sex and the often unhealthy attitudes that accompany it. There is gender identity and sexual orientation. And then there is the language that these teenagers use! Indeed, their language is so “salty” that the director felt compelled to offer an apologia in the program. Be prepared to think.
The show has an arc that gives the feeling of a “descent into hell” and a resurrection of sorts. Be prepared to feel.
A final note: Dog Sees God spelled backwards is “Dog Sees God.” Is there any significance in Royal’s choice to name his play using a palindrome? Does it mean that no matter which way you approach this play you will get the same meanings? Or does it mean that you get out the same way you got in?
If you are looking for 90 minutes worth of laughing, thinking, and feeling, this show is for you. Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead plays at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre through Oct. 1st, with 8 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 20th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/dog-sees-god-confessions-of-a-teenage-blockhead-is-so-much-more-than-a-peanuts-satire/Content?oid=8173230.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 and 30 and 3 p.m. Oct. 1 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $17 Friday and Saturday ($14 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), and $15 Sunday ($12 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://nract.org/tickets.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/shows#/dog-sees-god/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/156566304922406/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (2004 “unauthorized parody” of the Peanuts comic strip): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3754 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_Sees_God:_Confessions_of_a_Teenage_Blockhead (Wikipedia).
Bert V. Royal (Aurora, CO playwright and screenwriter): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_V._Royal (Wikipedia).
Pete Comperatore (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/pete.comp.3 (Facebook page).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.