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Rousuck Review: "Dog Sees God" At Spotlighters Theatre

Chris Aldridge

What happens when the "Peanuts" gang hits their teenaged years? SpotlightersTheatre explores that troubled timeframe in the parody, "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead." Our theater critic, J. Wynn Rousuck, brings us this review:

Pity the poor “Peanuts” gang. High school has not been good to them.

Burt V. Royal’s play, “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” begins with CB – as Charlie Brown is called – mourning the death of his beloved beagle, who contracted rabies and savagely slautered a yellow bird.

His friends’ lives are at least as troubled. CB’s Sister’ become Goth. Linus van Pelt, called “Van” in the play, is a stoner. His sister is an institutionalized sociopath.

“Dog Sees God” might sound like an amusing spoof on the Charles M. Schulz comic strip. But Burt Royal’s play and the Spotlighters production are deeply earnest – maybe too earnest. Like the group counseling scene near the end, much of the play feels like a series of sessions in which the characters act out psychodramas about topics including drug abuse, homophobia, teen suicide and bullying – especially bullying.

The Schroeder character, called Beethoven here, is bullied – even by CB – because his classmates think he’s gay. Reed DeLisle and Sean Dynan deliver two of the most affecting performances as shy Beethoven and confused CB. All of the characters’ names have been tweaked and their predicaments heightened to a point that, in several performances, reaches the level of shrieking.

But then, “Dog Sees God” is largely about kids out of control. A party at Marcy’s house, when her folks are away, basically becomes an orgy. The characters played by April Airriona Jones, Melanie Glickman and Dennis Binseel – as a sexist pig formerly known as “Pigpen” – wake up partly unclothed and loosely draped in a floor mat from a game of “Twister.”

The adults in “Dog Sees God,” like the adults in the “Peanuts” TV specials, are reduced to offstage voices that sound like “wawwaw waw.” They aren’t paying attention. This play attempts to change that by creating awareness.

The title, “Dog Sees God,” shows up in a joke Beethoven tells CB, but it’s also a palindrome – perhaps intended to suggest that attitudes can be reversed.

Spotlighters is doing its part to create awareness by following each performance with a discussion. Information on suicide prevention and the dangers of bullying is included in the program, and there’s extensive literature in the lobby.

Fuzz Roark, Spotlighters’ executive director and the director of this production, would like to take this show into middle and high schools. The profanity (there’s a lot of it) and some of the situations would probably have to be changed. But the students would recognize the way the characters talk, the excessive focus on being popular, the struggle for identity and many of the other crises the characters face.

“Dog Sees God” becomes too preachy, and a few of the Spotlighters actors need to concentrate more on diction and less on volume. But what the play has to say brought some audience members to tears at the performance I attended. So, good grief! The Peanuts characters may have grown up in a scary world, but this play helps them – and you – cope.

Audio for this segment will be available by the end of the day.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.