Playwright: Bert V. Royal
Company: Funky Little Theater
Venue: Funky Little Theatre, 2109 Templeton Gap, Colorado Springs CO.
Running Time: 2 hours (includes 10 minute intermission)
Date of Performance: Saturday, October 24, 2015.
Imagine a world where the Peanuts comic strip characters are now teenagers in high school. Then imagine their high school world as a hedonistic den of debauchery where alcohol, drugs, and casual sex are the daily enterprise.
“Good grief” seems an inadequate response; perhaps a few “OMGs” would be more to the point.
This is not your traditional Charlie Brown. Nor is it Charles Schulz’ Charlie Brown. Described as an “unauthorized parody,” Dog Sees God cannot use Schulz’ names for the characters. As a result, you get CB (Luke Schoenemann) instead of Charlie Brown, Van (Justin Anderson) instead of Linus Van Pelt, and so on. One may be reminded of the old saying that “the names have been changed to protect the innocent,” but playwright Bert Royal cares not for the innocence of Charlie Brown and his friends. The only protection gained by changing the names is for Royal to shield himself from lawsuits.
Therein lies my main objection to Royal’s script. Charles Shulz created child characters with, well, character. They were kids with adult traits. Shulz respected his children for their innocent wisdom. Royal’s script shows little respect for the teenagers he has endowed with little wisdom of any kind.
To be fair, Royal’s script is not entirely misguided; he takes on the subjects of bullying and teen suicide. These are delicate and important issues, and Dog Sees God has hard lessons for teenagers on both subjects. If one did not have to wade through the tidal wave of teen angst to get to those lessons, they would have been more effective.
Dog Sees God premiered at The New York International Film Festival in 2004, and premiered off Broadway in December, 2005. Perhaps predictably, that production was not without some serious controversy.
Funky Little Theater’s production is one of their best yet on a purely technical level. The set design provides numerous set pieces that are moved quickly on and off stage by a small army of stage hands. The lighting design is also well done, spotlighting characters in dramatic scenes. Will Sobolik’s sound design weaves the recorded Chopin sound track with a a live piano version of Heart and Soul duet featuring Beethoven (Danté J. Finley) and Shoenemann as CB.
Beethoven is a critical character in Dog Sees God, and Finley knows it. He plays Beethoven as a moody, mopey, insecure and troubled teen. In other words, he’s spot on. He stands tall as the most normal person in a cast of teen caricatures. Schoenemann plays CB, his tormenter turned protector, with a nearly emotionless game face. He cannot explain his new BFF, not even to himself; we cannot tell if his change of heart is sincere or cynical.
Michelle Pantle’s Marcy is excellent; she has mastered the essence of a high school girl. Marcy’s best GF Tricia is the mischievous Emma Colligan, who clearly enjoys playing a bad girl. Justin Anderson’s Van is a suitable slacker, adept at the nuances of getting and staying high. America Copeland (Van’s sister) and Alex Niforatos (Matt) both have fully embraced teen selves for the production.
Greta Hutcheon stands out of the crowd because she has the dubious honor of playing Royal’s most whacked out character, CB’s sister. Royal has written a part for her that few can fathom; she must portray a creature in a cocoon who would rather emerge as a platypus than a butterfly. You read that right: a platypus. This may well be the nadir of Royal’s writing skill. Hutcheon, undeterred, gives an enthusiastic, spirited performance in a needlessly ridiculous role.
Director/producer Chris Medina has put together a good production of script I don’t care for, and for that, I give him some well earned credit. Sending a message, even a flawed one, on topics like bullying and teen suicide is a noble venture. Medina cares about the community, and it shows in the passion and the promise of his Funky Little Theater productions. In the case of Dog Sees God, Medina has a flawed vehicle but a worthy destination.
It’s only fair to point out that I am clearly not the target demographic for Dog Sees God. I am far removed from my own personal teen angst. There were many in the audience who were very engaged and clearly enjoyed the performance. A number of them offered a standing ovation to the cast. Obviously, there are those who will disagree with me about Royal's script. I run the risk of being called a curmudgeon, but it’s just one guy’s opinion.
Reasonable people will differ, and I’m fine with that. I fully understand that theater must evolve and engage a younger demographic to survive, and Dog Sees God may fill theaters with that younger audience. If so, that is an important measure of success.
I may not be the biggest fan of Dog Sees God, but I am a big fan of Funky Little Theater. Chris Medina and company are taking risks and doing work that reminds us that theater isn't just Broadway hits. It's also the shows that push the envelope and make us see ourselves in a new way.
Good grief, Funky. Keep up the good work and keep challenging us.
This show has adult content and adult language. Not recommended for children. There is ample free parking in front of the theater. Note that evening performances begin at 7:00 PM, instead of the typical 7:30 PM performances elsewhere.
This show closes on November 7, 2015.
Producers: Chris Medina, Grant Langdon
Director: Chris Medina
Scenic Design: Company
Lighting Design: Company
Costume Design: Delaney Hallauer
Sound Design: Will Sobolik
Stage Manager: Rebecca Haile
Van: Justin Anderson
Van’s Sister: America Copeland
Charlie Brown’s Sister: Gretta Hutcheon
Tricia: Emma Colligan
Marcy: Michelle Pantle
Matt: Alex Niforatos
Beethoven: Danté Finley
CB: Luke Schoenemann