Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead isn’t for everyone, even in Raw Street Productions’ energetic and sincere production. Fans of Charles M. Shultz’s Peanuts cartoons may chafe at their favorite characters becoming troubled teenagers who drink, smoke, curse, fool around, and set fires. Younger audiences may feel playwright Bert V. Royal’s many Peanuts references sailing over their heads.
Then again, Peanuts— written and drawn by Schulz for 50 years, and still in syndication in newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer– has been ubiquitous for decades. Who doesn’t know the Peanuts Christmas special? A brief reference to the gang’s dancing earned a huge laugh at last Saturday’s matinee, as did the “waa-waa” teachers’ voices.
Not the Sunday funnies
Royal’s 2004 “unauthorized parody” thinly disguises the gang’s identities in a mess of angsty dysfunctional youth. In director Freddie Lozzi’s production, Dan D’Albis plays CB (Charlie Brown), who’s mourning the death of his beagle from rabies. CB’s unnamed sister (Sally in the comics), played by Madison Caudullo, is perhaps the healthiest teen, though she lives in a fantasy world and often re-invents her identity.
CB’s philosophical friend Linus is now Van (Ryker Dalton), whose deep musings are blunted by pot. His friends forced him to burn his blanket just two months ago. Piano-playing Schroeder is Beethoven (CJ Heston), who loves Chopin, is gay, and faces relentless bullying from his former friends, particularly Pig-Pen. Played by Jimmy Guckin, he now goes by Matt, and hearing his old nickname sets him off.
Peppermint Patty becomes Tricia (Tara Hernon) and her pal Marcie is, unimaginatively, Marcy (Gracie Hudson); they share a bottle of Kahlua at lunch. Charlie Brown’s nemesis, Lucy (Gianna Lozzi-Wolf), appears in one memorable scene. She’s incarcerated because she set The Little Red-Haired Girl’s hair on fire.
Raw Street performs Dog Sees God at Connie’s Ric Rac, a small, dark, comfortable bar in the Italian Market. It’s not a typical theater and doesn’t draw a typical theater crowd, which feels right for this play. Lozzi and designers Fred Lozzi Sr. and Jake Wolf keep the set simple and mobile for the play’s many scenes. Rachel Segal’s costumes don Charlie in yellow and black in understated ways.
Teens means angst
Beyond its sardonic Peanuts cleverness, Dog Sees God aspires to say something, and Lozzi smartly resists presenting the message gushing out as maudlin melodrama. In typical Charlie Brown fashion, even doing the right thing – standing up for Beethoven – results in chaos, and CB’s coming out is squashed by Lucy saying with her typical bluntness, “You’re not cool enough to be gay.”
D’Albis’s CB anchors the play with a gentle introspection that channels his beloved, hapless character. Dog Sees God is framed by CB’s letters to an old pen pal, revealed as only “CS,” which might be Royal’s way of apologizing to Schulz for all the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in his raucous script.
Schulz might utter Charlie Brown’s most famous phrase, “Good grief,” another big laugh for CB, if he could see Dog Sees God. He might also say, “Good play!”
~ Broad Street Review