Just as Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead was about to start last night, director Style Dayne joked about locking us into the theatre as he closed the doors. With a show that should clock in around 90 minutes, the fact we were there for 150 felt at times like we really were being held prisoner. Which is a huge shame, given some of the terrific performances from this cast.
An “unauthorized parody” Dog Sees God imagines what life would be like for Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gang as teens. Drugs, suicide, bullying and homophobia all play a part in Bert V. Royal’s black comedy as it slyly pokes fun at these beloved characters, whose names have been changed to avoid copyright infringement.
Gone are the days of worrying about whether the football will actually be there when it is to be kicked as CB/Charlie Brown tries to makes sense of life as he comes to terms with the death of his beloved beagle. Van/Linus is a stoner, Beethoven/Schroeder is questioning his sexuality as he recovers from being sexually abused by his father, Matt/Pig-Pen has traded in his trail of dirt for gallons of hand-sanitizer; and so it goes, each of the familiar gang grappling with something in their lives.
The show works best when Royal sticks to poking fun at Schulz’s familiar comic strip characters, although to be honest a few times I thought I was the only one in the theatre getting some of those jokes. As Royal delves a little deeper into the darker realms of his themes things do have a tendency towards melodrama and director Dayne doesn’t help by having the cast sing “Lean on Me” as the closer.
Fighting against Royal’s melodrama with some skill are terrific performances from a number of these cast members. Eric Banerd gives a very funny turn as pothead Van/Linus and captures one of the funniest moments early-on as he gathers up the universe in hands and puts it inside his hoodie’s pocket. Montana Norberg makes the most of her relatively small role as Van’s Sister/Lucy who has been institutionalized for setting the Red-Haired Girl’s hair on fire and Dylan Riches finds the real heart of his Beethoven/Schroeder. Jeff Todd has the difficult job of trying to find the truth in the heady philosophical questioning of his CB/Charlie Brown and while not always successful when forced into that part of his role, he does bring a genuine everyman to the table.
But while this cast largely delivers some solid performances they are ultimately let down by director Dayne’s interminable scene transitions which drags the show to its uncomfortable length. What should be a series of rapid-fire scenes akin to the panels of a comic strip, Dayne adds so many unnecessary set changes and extends them with blackouts that go well beyond what is required. At one point even the rickety old piano that Schroeder plays is moved nosily to the other side of the stage for no apparent reason. Not helping is Dayne’s decision to underscore each of those transitions with Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” (the instantly recognizable theme song that appears in most of the Peanuts television cartoons), that by the end of the evening had me hoping I would never hear this cherished childhood tune ever again.
Despite a few terrific performances I couldn’t help but join in Charlie Brown’s lament a number of times last night as yet another of the seemingly endless transitions took place. Good grief, indeed.
By Bert V Royal. Directed by Style Dayne. A Bar S Entertainment production. On stage at Go Studios through May 25, 2013. Visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com for tickets and information.