Bert V. Royal frames “Dog Sees God: Confession of a Teenage Blockhead”, at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre, as a “Whatever Happened to the Peanuts characters?” It begins with the death of the-dog-that-for-legal-reasons-can’t-be-named Snoopy and ends, long before the curtain, with the exasperation of our wits, our patience, and, momentarily, our faith in live theatre as a barometer of the human condition.
It’s set in high school and it feels like a high school production. Wildly uneven performances, direction that is notable for its absence (if Sean F. Gray is a teacher, then his class is a free-for-all study hall), and a script that elicits a paraphrase of Lloyd Bentsen’s iconic vice-presidential debate remark to Dan Quayle: “We grew up with Peanuts. We lived and learned through the characters. Bert V. Royal, you’ve no right to tarnish Charles Schultz’s memory with this fatuous, unconscionable palaver.”
The problem with the production is twofold. First, Royal picks the wrong target to skewer. He trivializes Schulz’s achievement, which explains why the Estate wouldn’t sanction his effort and which is why Charlie Brown is CB, Schroeder is Beethoven, and so on. When young, the characters were wise beyond their years. What happened here and why?
Second, the script is an abomination. The theatrical equivalent of the Taliban's destruction of the two Bamiyan Buddha statues, its crass, offensive, unfunny jokes SOUND MORE LIKE INTERNET FLAMING than dialogue and character development. In more able hands, it could have been a coming-of-age story of the formation of an identity as our hero CB, mourning the loss of his dog, navigates alcohol and drug abuse, homosexuality and its attendant homophobia, teenage violence, underage sex, and suicide. But it isn’t.
Only the not-Lucy character (Madison Mooney) and the not-Schroeder character (Matt Jennings) have backstories, so we understand where they come from. She set the Little Red head Girl’s hair on fire, so she’s in an institution. His father abused him, so the kids ostracize him. With the exception of CB’s sister (Jessica Jade Andres), a performance artist and, for the moment, a white witch, the others seem to emerge from Celebrity Rehab. Van aka Linus (Emerson Gregori) now a pothead, still philosophizes but sounds more like Jerry Garcia than Socrates. Tricia aka Peppermint Patty (Whitney Montgomery) and Marcy (Lauren Kushin) are Lindsay Lohan aspirants. Matt aka Pig Pen (Beau McCoy) is a jarheaded queerbasher. And CB (Jonathan David Lewis) wonders why he doesn’t have an identity. He finds one: a homosexual affair with Beethoven.
Three performances stand out. Andres’s CB’s sister, Kushin’s Marcy, and Jennings’ Beethoven: magnificent, just-right, believable. Stacy Hennon’s set design is fantastic (finally the Playhouse got those projected backdrops to gel with the story). There are a few aw-shucks cute moments. At Marcy’s party, they break out into a momentary “Linus and Lucy” dance. During a grief counseling session occasioned by Beethoven’s suicide, the teacher speaks in that delightful saxophone voice. These preciously few moments are smothered by a litany of fingering and fellatio, pitching and catching (CB’s comment after a baseball diamond tryst with Beethoven), barbecued turds, general purpose bonking, and atmospheric mayhem. Good grief!
Their website describes the Studio Theatre’s 2011 season as smart, CUTTING EDGE, relevant, Provocative (formatting theirs). This production is more senseless, blunt, supercilious, and sensational. Steer clear.
Performances are 8pm, Thu. – Sat., 2pm, Sun. The show runs until June 18. Tickets are $12-24. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. For more info call 494-1014 or visit www.lbplayhouse.org.