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A CurtainUp Review
Dog Sees God
Here's how Les Gutman began his review of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival's production of Dog Sees God: "At each year's Fringe, there are a few shows that arrive with their future seemingly mapped out. Bert Royal's "unauthorized" parody of Peanuts has all the trappings of a production that will be a Fringe survivor."
Give our man Gutman a gold star for astute prophesying. Royal's pallindrome titled first play has landed at the Century Center near Union Square. It has a new director and cast and probably considerably snazzier production values (a guess, since I didn't see the Fringe version). Its edgy humor seems to be fully intact, along with its take on identity confusion , life and the hereafter. The characters are easily identifiable with the Peanuts crowd yet with a distinctly original or "Royal" touch.
CB, the central character, is now a teenager (some ten years older than the comic strip Charlie) and played with wide-eyed charm by Eddie Kay Thomas, quite a departure from his sullen, non sequitur spouting role in the New Group's revival of Mike Leigh's Smelling a Rat of three seasons ago. (Most of the twenty and thirty somethings who are Dog Sees God's core audience will know him from the American Pie films.) The death of CB's beloved beagle as a result of rabies is described in an opening monologue in the form of a letter to an unknown and unresponsive pen pal. Not only does that mean this show must go on without Snoopy but without his pal Woodstock who was chewed up by the disease maddened beagle. But, yes, things wind up with Charlie, I mean CB, finally getting an answer from the elusive penpal -- and when he least expects it but most needs it.
The opening letter-monologue paves the way for the appearance of CB's friends, all as Les so aptly put it "crafted with lawyerly precision to avoid trespassing while making their identities clear to us." The way Royal builds on the foundation of Charles Schulz's iconic comic strip actually results in a parody that's also a stand-alone play apt to resonate even with anyone belonging to that small population segment unfamiliar with Peanuts.
Without going into too much plot detail, the dog's death triggers a Charley-ish identity crisis that sends the never very secure CB into something of an emotional tailspin that includes a crush on the nerdy Beethoven. CB's friends, for all their recognizably familiar traits, are hardly squeaky-clean Americana teenagerss. They talk in language that's peppered with more "F" words and other choice expressions than the dialogue of David Mamet's salesmen in GlenGarry Glen Ross. Their attitudes and actions are as gross and dreadful as they are funny: Linus, I mean Van (Keith Nobbs), is now so hooked on drugs that he'll even smoke the ashes of his burned blanket; CB's pal Matt (Ian Somerhalder) has morphed from Pigpen to a germophobe and homophobe and Lucie (Eliza Dushku) is mostly off stage because she's institutionalized for a violent act of arson. . . Schroeder now called Beethoven (Logan Marshall-Green) is the play's tragic central figure. . . Tricia (Kelli Garner) and Marcy (Ari Graynor), the original Peppermint Patty and Marcie turned bimbo cheerleaders who swill vodka out of their milk containers, typify the most outrageously fring-y humor. Compared to them CB's stage-struck sister (America Ferrara) is only mildly over the top.
While the cartoon inspired characters may give some people the mistaken notion that this is a family show, this is definitely a play for adults only -- and that adult audience decidedly non-mainstream.
The shenanigans of this grown-up and raunchy Peanuts gang gets to be more than a bit heavy handed, especially the melodramatic outcome of Matt's homophobia. Kelli Garner and Ari Graynor as the totally in-synch, toilet-mouthed and ditzy cheerleaders are undoubtedly the biggest laugh getters. But the more nuanced characters are Logan Marshall-Green's Beethoven, America Ferrara as CB's sister and Keith Nobbs in a for him against-type role which he is obviously savoring.
Trip Cullman keeps the energy pumped up sufficiently to avoid having the genuinely funny scenes from being overwhelmed by the detours into the melodramatic and grim finale. And Good Grief!. . . let's not forget to applaud David Korins' colorful scenery and the costumes by Jenny Mannis which often don't need any words to cause peals of laughter.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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