Posted by Alex Switzky
26. Mar, 2014
‘It’s Peanuts, but they’re troubled teens.’
In the wrong hands this sentence should inspire dread. Luckily, in the hands of playwright Bert V Royal (who would go on to write the fantastic Easy A) and the creative team at Boutique Theatre, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is handled with the careful sentiment and melancholy that made Peanuts an institution.
At the start of the play, yellow-shirted sad sack CB’s beloved beagle dies. CB takes this pretty hard, and begins quizzing his friends (all under copyright friendly aliases) about death and the afterlife. During CB’s search for meaning in his dog’s death, the play explores sexuality, drug use, bulimia, promiscuous sex, and all those other things that theatre insists are central to the teen experience.
The impulse when confronted with the play is to start drawing lines to Schulz’ comic, but the show has other ideas. Seth MacFarlane-esque ‘Hey, remember this?!’ jokes are kept to a minimum. Royal uses the Peanuts cast more as a shortcut to back-story than as a target for comedy, allowing the audience to compare and contrast instead of beating them with the reference stick.
The play would be just as effective if one had no grounding in the Peanuts universe at all, although a few props and costumes may seem odd to the uninitiated. Where the play stands strong is in its unflinching albeit slightly judgemental portrayal of the modern teen experience. It takes the philosophy and sincerity from Schulz’ work as well as the characters, which elevates the play far beyond parody.
The performances are uniformly spectacular, reserved where they need to be and outrageous where they can be, and the rotating locker set is both fitting and clever in how it moves the action between locations.
A few blocking choices are a little slow and loose, dragging some scenes on longer than needed. The play’s heavy themes can occasionally veer from sincere to after-school special levels of maudlin. But these are minor quibbles. Special congratulations should be paid to the music choices: the choral arrangement of Teenage Dirtbag was a huge hit with the crowd.
Dog Sees God is smart and sincere and honest, and will affect any audience ready to embrace the difficulties of high school, Peanuts fan or not.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Saturday, 29 March at the Mechanics Institute, Brunswick
Please see www.boutiquetheatreco.com for more info and tickets.
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