Bert V. Royal, author of an “unauthorized parody” of the “Peanuts” cartoon strip by the late Charles Schulz titled “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” certainly won’t lose any sleep about my opinion. These days he’s laughing all the way to the bank. But “Dog Sees God” is a work that I found disposable and detestable.
It’s an update we didn’t need. Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the others were first-graders when we knew them long ago, but Bert Royal wondered what the gang would be like as high school seniors. His little playlet explores that theme, renaming them for legality sake, but they’re still recognizable. Charlie, once trustworthy but still wimpy “Chuck,” is now CB; his sister is, well, CB’s Sister and she’s a Goth; the troubled, addictive Linus is stoned Van; Pigpen is Matt, both germophobic and homophobic; pianist Schroeder is now gay and bullied Beethoven; and the two bratty, dissing little girls, Patty and Marcie, have evolved into Tricia and Marcy, totally mean-spirited now and sex kittens as well. And you can add Van’s Sister – nee Lucy – now institutionalized with pyromaniac tendencies, to the group. Oh, and Snoopy? Sorry to tell you. The lovable beagle was stricken with rabies, ate his bird buddy, Woodstock and had to be put down.
CB is having a tough go with Snoopy’s death. He’s obsessed with the afterlife and asks everyone “Where do we go when we die?” Some funny, often thoughtful lines emerge, reflective minutes, some even poignant, as the best minutes of “Dog Sees God” come early on. Alas, f-bombs soon fly – including many from CB, no slouch in the gratuitous profanity department here – raunch reigns, sex is on everyone’s mind (including Van, who has even smoked the remains of his burned blanket) and gay-bashing and bullying take center stage. By this time, any idea that “Dog Sees God” was going to be cute is gone.
So, the philosophical gives way to very dark matters in “Dog Sees God.” Terrible enough – involving the abused Beethoven, the sadistic, hateful Matt, the clueless, enabling CB – that all the potty-mouths come to attention and speak tearfully in group format to serious social problems. There’s a moment of hope to take home. Yet, the final moments are ones of uncomfortable contrition. A letter from CB’s pen pal – purportedly from a “C.Schulz” underscoring what a “good man” he’s become – adds one final, false note.
Director Drew McCabe does his best with playwright Royal’s callow, clichéd and nomadic script. McCabe, with his usual savvy and inventiveness, makes the most of the many laughable minutes and luckily his cast resembles a who’s who list of young but experienced area talent. Jacob Albarella is superb as CB; James Wild, beastly but sensational as Matt; the nuanced Kevin Craig as Beethoven; plus Andrea Andolina, Eric Mowery, Jessica Wegrzyn, Maura Nolan and Kristin Bentley. Dutiful, all.