Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Someone, somewhere, must think Peanuts is the work of the devil, but not even the brimstone Baptist of Topeka, Kansas, has been heard to blame the late Charles Schulz for tornadoes, terrorists, or a drizzle of toads. Schulz’s forever-young characters and the variations on everyday travails have been gently received since 1950, and to project the Peanuts gang into their teen years and harsh contemporary realities has the unsettling flavors of a comfort food retooled. Or perhaps a security blanket incinerated.
In Bert V. Royal’s "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead", now at Boxcar Theatre, that’s what happens to Linus’ blanket when his buddies decide that the nasty, lice-infested swath of wool must go. But Linus (a hippie-dippy Lucas Brandt) makes the best of it by mixing the ashes in with some pot and smoking it. "Now my blanket and I are like one forever," he tells Charlie Brown. "We all handle grief in different ways."
That’s a dig at Charlie Brown, called C.B. in "Dog Sees God." (All names have been altered, but we’re sticking with the originals here.) He’s been moping around more than usual after his dog - unnamed, but definitely Snoopy - has been put to sleep after contracting rabies and killing "a little yellow bird that had always been around." Charlie, wonderfully played in sad-sack fashion by Andrew Humann, has been earnestly recounting the dog’s demise as part of a letter to an unresponsive pen pal, but the reference to the bird we know as Woodstock draws a laugh both of recognition and at its morbid incongruity.
And so it goes with "Dog Sees God," as Peanuts connections are humorously invoked in a social setting in which kiddie angst has grown up with consequences far beyond a dropped fly ball. The busy and adventurous Boxcar Theatre is presenting the SF premiere of Royal’s bittersweet play that has had numerous stagings since its New York debut in 2004. This is good work on view at Boxcar, sharply directed by Nick A. Olivero, and played by a cast with a passion that finds a way to straddle the worlds of a comic-strip genesis and quasi-realistic drama.
Stripped of the Peanuts lineage and the associations we bring to it, "Dog Sees God" might seem at times like dramas that tour to high schools encouraging tolerance and understanding. For example, the piano-playing Schroeder (a brooding Bobby Conte Thornton) has been living his high school years in terror after being targeted as the class faggot. Pig-Pen (a frighteningly intense Cody Young) is the biggest bully and spews homophobic invective at anyone who shows the slightest kindness to Schroeder. When the mostly milquetoast Charlie Brown spontaneously, and publicly, engages a bewildered Schroeder in a lip lock, ramifications are swift and severe.
But while "Dog Sees God" finds its way into some dark territories, there is usually a skewed whimsy close at hand. Peppermint Patty (Kailey Hewitt) and her minion Marcie (Michelle Ang) turn their little cartons of cafeteria milk into single-serve White Russians, and then rag on fat chicks. Lucy (Teresa Attridge) is still running her nickel-a-session psychiatric practice, but now from a prison cell. And Charlie Brown’s younger sister Sally (Mimi Folco) has become a Wiccan gangsta and interpretive dancer.
In his opening recitation of the letter he is writing to his pen pal, Charlie Brown says, "When my dog died, that was when the rain cloud came back and everything went to hell." His personal rain cloud pours real drops at the end as he finally gets an answer from his pen pal. The letter becomes a soggy mess, but its contents might well tug a tear or two from those who at some point found in Peanuts one of their comfort foods.
"Dog Sees God" will run at Boxcar Theatre through Aug. 25. Tickets are $16. Call 967-2227 or go to www.boxcartheatre.org.