Jobsite Theater’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal
Lucy’s locked up; Van (aka Linus) is a pothead; Matt (aka Pigpen) is a germaphobe; Van’s Sister (Sally) is a goth girl; Marcy and Tricia (Peppermint Patty) are sex-obsessed gossip girls; and Beethoven and CB (short, obviously, for Charlie Brown) are gay.
Not the Peanuts you remember, right?
That’s because this lineup represents playwright Bert V. Royal’s parodic imagining of the Peanuts as 2000-something high school teenagers in his play entitled Dog Sees God:Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, which premiered in 2004 at the New York International Fringe Festival.
In the Jobsite Theater mounting of Dog Sees God, currently in run at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, audiences will laugh until their eyes water and then, possibly, shed genuine tears of sadness, too–both totally warranted responses that speak to the script’s generic range and delicate subject matter as well as the merits of this production. The play is a biting comedy bookended by two very different deaths–Snoopy’s from rabies (in spite of his being vaccinated), and Beethoven’s from suicide–both of which we are inclined to believe should or could have been prevented, but unfortunately, bad things can and do happen to good dogs and gay youth.
The play begins with the introspective CB mourning the loss of his beloved pet and reading aloud a letter he is penning to ‘CS.’ This letter, which he returns to several times during the play, as well as CS’ response which comes at the play’s end, serve as a means for CB to express his questions about God and life within the world of the play and also as a Pirandellian vehicle for Royal to allow CB the character to converse with his authorial god, Charles Schultz. While CB wrestles with faith and the possibility of heaven’s existence, his sister practices Wicca and his self-absorbed friends pursue various illicit and perverse recreational activities. An obvious loner and outcast, Beethoven appears briefly early on, just long enough to be taunted by the hyperbolically hetero-masculine and homophobic Matt, played convincingly by Richard Kennedy, who spouts song lyrics that rival those of Two Live Crew.
The tone of the play shifts when CB unexpectedly encounters Beethoven during lunch hour, alone in the music room. Ironically, the ostrazcized Beethoven proves to be the only character who comforts CB. The scene culminates in a kiss that prompts the teens to contemplate their sexual identities. CB bravely makes the relationship that ensues between them public knowledge, catapulting Matt’s homophobia to such heights that others in the gang wonder what feelings for CB he himself may be suppressing. Matt pays Beethoven a lunch hour visit, crushing his fingers under the piano cover and in no time, driving Beethoven to end his own life. This may not be the happy ending viewers anticipate or seek, but it is nonetheless a poignant one, considering the grim statistics on suicide among LGBTQ youth, who are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. In the end, it’s too late for the collectively remorseful Peanuts to save Beethoven, but it’s not too late for the audience watching to squelch discrimination in their homes and communities.
Jobsite’s production has many memorable scenes, thanks to both the cast and director David Jenkins, who makes good use of Brian Smallheer’s fairly neutral, gray and brick courtyard set with its various elevations. Shawn Paonessa delivers all of CB’s monologues with endearing sincerity. Meg Heimstead and Katrina Stevenson as Marcy and Peppermint Patty respectively are the force behind the comic scenes. Their lunchtime gab sessions in which they spike their drinks, plot their next lay, and poke fun at a minor and not present Peanuts character whom they refer to as ‘Fat Frieda’ are excruciatingly accurate, completely disturbing, and totally hilarious. Their glossing of Frieda’s WWJD t-shirt as ‘Who wants jelly donuts?’ instead of ‘What would Jesus do?’ just about says it all. Those looking for nostalgic Peanuts moments will appreciate Summer Bohnenkamp-Jenkins’ portrayal of an incarcerated, pyromaniacal, know-it-all Lucy, who still manages to offer psychiatric advice to CB when he goes to visit her in the ward. Her high-volume scream of “C-H-A-R-L-I-E” when CB leaves behind the scarf she knitted him is spot-on.
In sum, if you like theatre that’s not merely entertaining, but also swift (the show’s just over an hour), well staged, and relevant, then check out the show before it closes August 29th. Tickets are $24.50.