Raleigh Ensemble Players’ provocative production of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, Los Angeles dramatist and screenwriter Bert V. Royal’s unauthorized play featuring angst-ridden teenage versions of good old Charlie Brown and the “Peanuts” comic-strip gang, is definitely not for small fry, and not just because Snoopy dies of rabies (offstage) — and goes to Dog Heaven — just before the curtain rises. If Dog Sees God were a movie, it would probably be rated PG-13 (for language, drugs, drinking, and sexual situations), or maybe even R.
The wishy-washy Charlie Brown of the “Peanuts” comic strips is a lovable naïf, perpetually eight years old, maybe a little too eager to please, and a little too trusting. Consequently, he is the butt of many a mean joke played by his peers and especially his nemesis Lucy van Pelt, who pulls the figurative rug out from under him at every opportunity.
In Dog Sees God, playwright Bert Royal reimagines Charlie Brown as CB, a perpetually smiling teenager charmingly played by Bryan Burton. But CB’s Pollyanna-ish world view is challenged when the homophobic gang ostracizes their friend Beethoven (Thomas Porter), the piano-playing musical prodigy formerly known as Schroeder.
On opening night last Friday, Porter started out a little stiff, but he gradually loosened up and ultimately gave a poignant performance as a classical music lover taunted and ridiculed by his former playmates, with the merciless Matt (Eric Morales) leading the mob of Beethoven’s tormentors.
Morales makes Matt (formerly Pigpen), with his hair-trigger temper and volcanic rages, a scary dude indeed; and recent Enloe High School graduate Joey Osuna is good as the drug-addled Van (formerly Linus), who has swapped his fuzzy security blanket for the fog induced by abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol.
Dramatist Bert Royal paints the boys in the “Peanuts” gang with bold strokes, in primary colors; but his portraits of the gang’s girls are not quite as vivid. Royal makes Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally (recent Cary Academy graduate Hillary Aarons) a Wiccan in funereal black Goth attire, Tricia (the former Peppermint Patty played by Jess Barbour) a slut, and Marcy (Lori Scarborough Ingle) Tricia’s number-one admirer and imitator who has a huge crush on CB.
Sheryl Scott tackles the plum role of Van’s Sister (the irascible Lucy van Pelt) with great gusto. Now convicted and imprisoned as an arsonist, Lucy is an unrepentant firebug who lights a fire under Charlie Brown during a jail visit.
Long-time REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews’ sure-handed staging uses every inch of scenic designer Miyuki Su’s environmental set, which seats characters in the midst of the audience and REP patrons in the middle of the action. Consequently, Triangle theatergoers get an up-close-and-personal look not at Charles M. Schulz’s lovable preteen cartoon characters, but at eight typical teenagers forced to take sides when homophobia rears its ugly head.
The question that playwright Bert Royal asks is, “Who among the ‘Peanuts’ gang could resist the temptation to turn on Beethoven and make him their verbal and physical piñata?” The answer is what makes Dog Sees God such an intriguing alternate history of Charlie Brown and his little friends.
SECOND OPINION: June 22nd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-turbulent-side-of-a-familiar-band-of-kids-in-reps-dog-sees-god/Content?oid=2583455; and June 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/06/28/1305906/an-uneven-dog-sees-god.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the June 23rd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/06/bert-v-royals-dog-sees-god-parodies-the-peanuts-comic-strip-characters-as-teenagers/.)
Raleigh Ensemble Players presents DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD at 8 p.m. June 29-July 2, 7 p.m. July 3, and 8 p.m. July 6-9 at 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and educators, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except June 29th and July 6th pay-what-you-can performances, $10 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), and $50 July 9th Grand Opening and Gala Celebration, starting at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-show reception hosted by Mayor Charles Meeker.
BOX OFFICE/GROUP RATES: 919/832-9607, TTY: 919/835-0624, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.realtheatre.org/box_office.html.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 8 p.m. July 1st performance. OTHER LINKS:
The Play: http://dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3754 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_Sees_God:_Confessions_of_a_Teenage_Blockhead (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database) and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1421629/ (Internet Movie Database).
“Peanuts”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanuts (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.