REVIEW: Dog Sees God (Epic Theatre)

  
  

What happens when the Peanuts gang grows up? It’s not pretty.

  
 

Epic Theatre's "Dog Sees Dog" by Bert V. Royal - now playing at Stage 773

  
Epic Theatre presents
  
Dog Sees God: Confessions of Teenage Blockhead
   
Written by Bert V. Royal
Directed by Scott Adam Johnston & William Hasty
at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through Feb 21  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

A play about the “Peanuts” gang as teenagers navigating a contemporary high school setting is ripe with potential. I love seeing beloved characters thrown into unfamiliar environments; Sondheim does it with Into The Woods; Julie Taymor is currently trying with Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. Unfortunately Dog Sees God: Confession of a Teenage Blockhead is more the latter than the former, a misguided mess that takes everything lovable Schultz’s characters and degrades it in a wave of sex, drugs, and utter stupidity. Leaving Epic Theatre’s production, I would have guessed the script was still a first draft, but Dog Sees God has played off-Broadway, with some pretty big names in the cast, too. Apparently the public’s morbid curiosity with seeing childhood icons disgraced is higher than I thought.

Epic Theatre's "Dog Sees Dog" by Bert V. Royal - now playing at Stage 773Dog Sees God begins with CB (Fred Geyer) writing a letter to an undisclosed pen pal, mourning the loss of his beagle after it contracted rabies and killed the little yellow bird that was always around it. Yeah, Snoopy ate Woodstock. It gets much, much worse. After holding a funeral that no one but his sister (Miriam Reuter) shows up to, he ruminates about the nature of life and death with his friend Van (Jason Nelson), a stoner version of Linus that smokes his blanket after his sister and CB burn it. Then we’re introduced to Matt (Matt Hays) the germaphobe, homophobe future version of Pig Pen who does coke before class and gets his kicks by bullying Beethoven (Greg Brew), an alienated Schroeder whose father molested him as a child. Peppermint Patty and Marcie are Tricia (Ashley Preston) and Marcy (Lauren Bourke), stereotypical high school mean girls that sip vodka out of milk cartons while discussing new ways to demean themselves and others. The gang is rounded out by Van’s sister (Nicole Carter), an institutionalized, pyromaniac Lucy who was thrown in an asylum after burning the Little Red-Haired Girl’s curly locks. There they are, the bastardized future selves of the Peanuts gang.

Royal’s script is so cliché-filled that it’s almost as if he were given a list of stereotypical characters and situations in a high school environment. Drinking and drug abuse, abortion, molestation, suicide, bullying, prejudiced jocks, bitchy blondes, the talented, tortured quiet boy…the list goes on and on. The hodgepodge of issues makes the play a disorganized mess, and things happen so quickly that nothing is given time to actually have any sort of emotional gravity. CB kisses Beethoven at a party, and he is immediately ready to accept a homosexual identity because it’s convenient to the story Royal is trying to tell. Who care if it’s completely unrealistic? The entire play is built around bizarre developments, from a completely unnecessary rap interlude by Marcy to everyone’s irrational fear of a “gay disease.” Was this written in 1972? Nope. 2004. In the end, the play’s anti-bullying message comes across as trite, a tacked on epilogue to make the play feel relevant despite the archaic views it presents.

The shameful thing is that there are good actors underneath some of these characters. Geyer, despite being a little too mousy to be one of the “cool kids,” tries to create legitimate conflict in CB although the script is constantly working against him. His first scene with Beethoven is even above average, giving their relationship some believability that will, of course, be completely compromised later. As CB’s sister, Reuter has some strong moments, surprisingly when she performs her one woman show “Cocooning Into Platypus,” which is the kind of juvenile theater piece a high school goth would write. But this isn’t a high school play, this is professional theater with paying patrons, and they shouldn’t have to sit and watch derivative scene after derivative scene.

As messy as the script is, the direction from Johnston and Hasty only serves to muddle up the production further. During the party scene, six actors are all crammed onto one platform, attempting to create the illusion of a crowded party but mostly just looking uncomfortable. One of the play’s most important moments happens during this scene, but the poor blocking takes away its resonance. The production values are minimal, from the sloppy set to the limited lighting and sound that make the show feel incomplete to a large degree.

From the script to the staging, Dog Sees God: Confession of a Teenage Blockhead is like Charlie Brown and the football. It keeps on kicking, and it keeps on missing. Glorified fan-fiction at its best, low-grade smut at its worst, this play goes against everything Schultz’s characters stand for. The play ends with an attempt to honor the “Peanuts” creator, but after 90 minutes of watching Charlie Brown and his friends humiliate themselves, it’s just offensive.

  
  
Rating: ★½