Last Saturday night, my friend David and I drove downtown to the Theatre on the Square to see “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Ron Spencer.
It was not at all what we had expected. For example, it is amusing and full of surprises, but it is not laugh-a-minute hilarious, even as dark comedy. And although it attempts to pay homage – both sarcastic and sincere – to Charles Schultz and the original Peanuts characters, it is not nearly as layered as the originals.
It also lacks focus. Some of the characters tell each other to “get an identity,” but really it is the play itself that doesn’t know who it is or what it is about.
I blame the playwright. I don’t think he even likes teenagers, or the original Peanuts characters, for that matter. He wrote stereotypically about their angst and missed what makes them endearing.
However, TOTS director Ron Spencer treats his attractive, young (teenaged and people in their 20s) cast with respect, just as he treated his even younger cast with respect in the “Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” spoof last year. In “Dog Sees God,” the f-words and references to sex, drugs, binge-drinking, crime, homophobia, and death are sometimes overwhelming, but through Spencer’s direction and the efforts of the actors – who all have good control over their portrayals – it is fun to figure out which shocking character in the show is supposed to be which wholesome Peanuts character from the original comic. The Peanuts children are all teenagers now, and none of them go by their original names, probably because this show does not have the approval of the Charles M. Schultz Estate or United Features Syndicate.
Also, CB’s yellow shirt may have a cooler, thinner, straight line across it now instead of an earnest, thickly jagged one, but he is still asking the big questions such as “what happens after you die?” That is satisfying, too.
I am not going to tell you about each character the way I usually do, because I don’t want to spoil the fun of figuring them out on your own. Here is a list of the cast:
CB – Kevin Lambert
CB’s Sister – Emily Bohannon
Van – Patrick Mullen
Matt – Adam Widmer
Beethoven – Ben Jones
Marcy – Emily Veno
Tricia – Sarah Hoback
Van’s Sister – Erin Cohenour
The interactions of the teens all take place on various levels of a deceptively tranquil blue set designed by Jim Trofatter and Ron Spencer, constructed by Trofatter, Jeff McNeil, Larry Manion, and Zach McNeil. Ron Spencer also designed the sound. Kevin Brown designed the lighting.
Director Spencer was assisted by John Fullam. The technical director was James Trofatter. Diane McGuire was in charge of properties. The stage manager is Larry Manion.
Rebecca DeVries McConnell designed the costumes. I especially loved the goth outfit.
I was interested to learn afterwards that the original production of this play debuted and was a hit at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival. That makes sense. It is definitely “fringe-y.” Then it was produced off-Broadway with a cast of young television and movie stars and enjoyed a successful run until someone got mad at someone else and threatened to sue. That success makes sense, too. Who wouldn’t want to see one’s favorite Buffy and American Pie stars in a live theatre piece?
I am not sure about the script’s staying power as a stand-alone piece without benefit of a Fringe setting or a cast of famous actors, but I am glad I got the chance to see it produced here. I have never seen the musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” but from what I have read, this show is nothing like that one. If I could only see one, I am glad I got to see the edgier one.
What I like most of all about this show is that it nudged me into taking another look at the original Peanuts comics. I would not have said that I had a strong opinion about these cultural icons one way or the other, but this show reminded me that I grew up on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Great Pumpkin TV specials. It also reminded me that my father had a collection of Peanuts paperbacks that he had bought before I was born. I poured over them as a child and claimed them when he was clearing out his bookcase a few years ago. This show made me want to re-read those now-fragile books to see what they make me think and feel at this stage in my life.
Actually, I think what I would really like is for someone to write a semi-serious, semi-funny play about the Peanuts characters at middle age.
In any case, this show continues at Theatre on the Square through Saturday, April 4, 2009. To make a reservation to see “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenaged Blockhead,” please call the TOTS box office 317-685-TOTS or visit www.tots.org.
By the way, when Ron Spencer gave the curtain talk Saturday night, he mentioned that TOTS is considering producing “Mafia Daughter” by local playwright Mike Feruzza later this year. However, the show to fill the “spring musical slot” has not yet been confirmed.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com