Play: Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Group: NonProphet Theatre
Venue: Tin Ceiling, 3159 Cherokee Street
Dates: January 30, 31, February 1
Tickets: $12-$15; contact 636-236-4831 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: As the show begins, C.B. is tearfully recalling the recent death of his beloved dog, with a simple red doghouse positioned strategically in the background. C.B. notes that his beagle had been bitten and contracted rabies, resulting not only in its own death but also a cute little yellow bird that frequented the dog’s little abode. Seeking solace and understanding as well as answers to the mysteries of death and an after-life, the round-headed teen visits with his long-time pals. They include his goth sister, his pot-smoking buddy Van, Van’s incarcerated sister, the piano-playing Beethoven, “bad girls” Tricia and Marcy and neatness freak Matt.
Trouble is, all of CB’s friends are up to their eyeballs in serious problems, including drug use, eating disorders, teen violence, rebellion, homophobia, sexual identity and other pitfalls with potentially tragic consequences. Are these slackers and losers really the same beloved little kids who populated CB’s world just a decade ago? And how will they react when CB, still wearing his omnipresent shirt with the singular jagged stripe, stirs the pot even more with a stunning and unexpected act that forces all of them to examine their own values, thoughts and feelings?
Highlights: Playwright Bert V. Royal has fashioned a clever and imaginative “unauthorized parody” of Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip that takes the audience far from the gentle realm of that witty and intelligent world into dangerous and uncharted territory, from G-rated warmth to an adults-only realm of nastiness and eye-opening vulgarity. First produced in 2004 at the New York International Fringe Festival, Dog Sees God is both fitfully funny and savagely tragic, an arresting journey into that dangerous world between childhood and maturity.
Director Robert Mitchell offers a fine rendition of Royal’s work, assembling a top-notch cast that provides an abundance of rollicking laughter as well as some scary insights into the decline and moral bankruptcy of modern American society. Working within the confines of the shabby, minuscule performance space at the Tin Ceiling, his octet of players does amazing work throughout the play’s two hours.
Other Info: Charlie Barron anchors the production with a thoughtful, introspective approach to CB, carrying with him all of our reminiscences about the little round-haired kid, as well as some surprising new developments. Meg Rodd explodes with eccentric energy as CB’s manic younger sister, who flits almost daily from one new foundation to another. Brendan Allen is a hoot as Van, who has substituted pot for his beloved blue blanket in order to maintain his tranquil state.
Paris McCarthy is amusing as promiscuous, vapid Tricia, who along with her bespectacled sidekick Marcy (played delightfully by Bess Moynihan) thinks only about parties and the next guy to bed, while Adam Qualls is pensive and brooding as the artistic and sexually ambivalent Beethoven, carrying the scars of a disturbing childhood trauma. Rusty Gunther bullies the stage as the vulgar and mean-spirited Matt, who has transferred his physically sloppy childhood ways into an emotional pig sty of adolescence. Natasha Toro completes the cast as Van’s pyromaniac sister, currently in prison for setting on fire the hair of the “red-haired girl” but who can still provide impromptu counseling for good ol’ CB.
Mitchell, or Royal, makes a fundamental flaw by having this piece presented in one act rather than two. This is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is that the story drags wearily for 20 minutes or so as it creaks to its conclusion of nearly two hours. Secondly, veering from broad comedy to shocking tragedy would work better with an intermission to allow for an audience to re-energize. A third stunningly sloppy error in the script allows for no historical recognition of the childhood crush which CB’s sister had on Van. That’s inexplicable and inexcusable and just poor research on Royal’s part.
Technical support is terrific, led by Rodd’s astute costuming that successfully combines the past and present of these characters. Gunther contributes the functional set, with amusing props provided by Sarah Holt, and a background screen that introduces various chapters in the story. Moynihan and Heather Tucker offer complementary lighting and Mitchell adds the amusing sound design.
Dog Sees God is definitely not for the kids, but an original and alarming look at what might be in the future, even in the realm of fiction.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.