Los Angeles Theater Review: DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD (Worst First Kiss Productions at the McCadden Place Theatre)

by Tony Frankel on June 22, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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A VERY GOOD GRIEF

This funny but disturbing update of Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip first arrived at the Blank Theatre, after which Worst First Kiss Productions wisely utilized the Hollywood Fringe Festival to create a six-performance extension. I certainly hope there are more performances to come, for Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead contained some of the finest dramatic sections seen not just at the Fringe but on any L.A. stage this year.

A series of vignettes, but with a decided through-line—namely a budding gay high-school romance and all the angst and bullying that engenders—Burt V. Royal’s 2004 “unauthorized parody” is chockablock with adolescent issues, from drug and alcohol abuse to sexual and identity concerns. In fact, there is very little normalcy here; it’s pure drama. Indeed, the play opens with the death of CB’s dog from rabies (the unseen and unnamed Snoopy) and a funeral service that is attended only by CB—the erstwhile Charlie Brown—and his Sister, who has turned from lovesick Sally into a nameless rebellious Goth.

None of the onstage characters retains their original name or childhood persona: Schroeder is now Beethoven, a piano-playing prodigy; Peppermint Patty is now Tricia, a popular poser; Marcie is now Marcy, Tricia’s needy follower; Pig-Pen is Matt, a sexually compulsive bully; Linus is Van, a philosophizing stoner; and Lucy is Van’s Sister, a pyro institutionalized after igniting the glorious curls of the The Little Red-Haired Girl (equally unseen here).

All eight characters are battling demons, both internal and external. Part of the one-act’s deliciousness is the inherent “whatever-happened-to” fascination, but as the scenes progress, the emphasis is on cruelty not friendship. While Mr. Royal certainly drives home a much-needed message of tolerance, he robs his own play of a satisfying arc, turning a sexual discovery into unnecessarily ugly brutality.

But a problematic play is overcome by the rich dialogue and Jonah Platt’s perceptive direction. Mostly, the freshness and excitement comes from a stunning cast entirely comprised of actors aged 16-18. The standout is Zoe D’Andrea, an Ally Sheedy prototype who nevertheless shouts distinction, originality, and fascinating flashes of psychological complexity as Van’s Sister, a character who stepped right out of Girl, Interrupted. As Beethoven, James Sanger beautifully blends old soul and taunted teenager, and Chandler David is perfect as the misfit CB, who takes years of confusion and channels them into a nice guy desperately trying to fit in, even if that means becoming a tormentor himself.

Corey Fogelmanis is perfectly cast as the Buddhist-like Van, but his filmic diction and projection need to be upgraded for the theater. While overplaying Matt’s anger, Gabriel Nunag is an awesome bundle of raw nerves. Charlotte Weinman and Judy Durkin mine some character-inspired laughs as Tricia and Marcy; and the chameleonlike Joey Maya Safchik takes on many shades as CB’s identity-switching sister.

Humorous, raw, topical, foul-mouthed and at times inspired, Dog Sees God is both sensitive and desensitizing, which is a dynamic combination that makes for exciting theater.

photos by Erin Flannery

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Worst First Kiss Productions
McCadden Place Theatre
1157 N McCadden Pl in Hollywood
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
ends on July 22, 2017
for tickets, visit Hollywood Fringe
for more info, visit Worst First Kiss on Facebook

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