The teenagers in Dog Sees God: Confessions Of A Teenage Blockhead could come straight out of American Pie or Mean Girls, but they bear an uncanny resemblance to a celebrated bunch of comic strip kids.

CB is a teen everyman whose pet beagle has just died of rabies after killing “a little yellow bird who used to hang around.”  Van is a stoner with a huge head of curls and a question for CB: “Do you remember when you and my sister burned my blanket?”  Matt is a muscular rapper none too pleased when CB’s sister asks him, “Where do swine live?” (He is, you see, the same kid that used to wallow in dirt so much so that a cloud of dirt always followed him around.)

Then there’s airhead Tricia and her tag-along best friend Marcy:
Tricia: Is anyone looking at me?
Marcy: No sir. 
Tricia: Sweetie, you’ve got to stop calling me that!

Beethoven spends all his time playing the piano, CB’s sister changes religions as often as she changes clothes, and Van’s sister still hangs out a sign stating “The Doctor is IN” and doling out advice at 5¢ a pop, though now she does it from a mental facility where she’s been institutionalized. 

Should the thought occur to you that these highschoolers might possibly be Charlie Brown, Linus (Van Pelt), Pigpen,  Peppermint Patty nee Patricia,  Marcie (with an –ie), Schroeder, Sally, and Lucy of Peanuts fame, think again.  “Dog Sees God has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Charles M. Schultz estate.” In other words, any resemblance is purely coincidental.  As if!

Who would have thought that these beloved childhood characters would grow up to be a bunch of foul-mouthed (and very real) teens?  Yet that’s exactly who they are in Bert V. Royal’s award-winning comedy-drama, finally getting its Los Angeles premiere with director extraordinaire Nick DeGruccio at the helm.

CB is reading aloud from the latest of his many letters to his as yet unresponsive pen pal when sis arrives, dressed in red-and-black goth glory, and informs CB that although last week she was telling their mother she’d go to hell for reading Harry Potter, this week she’s a Wiccan and practicing white magic. As Charlie Brown (Oops! That’s CB) might say, “Good grief!”

Van offers CB a “bud” as he waits for a delivery from “the Doober.”  After reminding CB about his burned blanket, he informs his friend that since he smoked the ashes, he and his blanket are now “like one forever.”

Matt is as white as they come, but he greets CB with a ghetto “CB, my nigga, what’s up man?” and an accent that’s more inner city than suburban. 

Meanwhile, CB’s sister is preparing her one-girl show, Cocooning Into Platypus, about a caterpillar who longs to metamorphose into a platypus rather than a butterfly. Get ready, off-off-off Broadway. 

Tricia and Marcy, on the other hand, have better things to do with their time than perform solo, namely trash-talk about Tricia’s fat nemesis Frieda (remember her “naturally curly hair”?) and spike their cafeteria drinks not so surreptitiously.

Very funny and very clever indeed is this not-a-Peanuts-spoof, and very R-rated as well in its use of four-letter words and gross-out humor.  

But Dog Sees God is also a GLAAD media award-winner, and the reason why soon becomes clear. In the midst of all these outrageous (and outrageously funny) high jinx, some far more serious matters are afoot.

You see, though Matt is as drop-dead gorgeous as any teen idol could possibly  be, he doesn’t come across so handsome when talking about Beethoven. “You see the way that fucking faggot looked at me!” he asks CB. “I fucking hate that faggot!”

When CB tries to tell Beethoven how bad he feels about what Matt has said, Beethoven will have none of it.  “You haven’t spoken to me in years except to call me a faggot,” he spits out.  Former close friend CB has, it seems, harassed Beethoven for years and once even dislocated his shoulder. “Don’t say you were just messing with me,” insists Beethoven, who has been afraid to eat in the school cafeteria since then.  “No wonder kids bring guns to school and shoot you fuckers down.”

Still, CB still being Charlie Brown at heart, invites Beethoven to a party that night and won’t take no for an answer. At the party, when Matt starts to get in Beethoven’s face about being where he’s not wanted, CB shows everyone there that Beethoven is wanted by at least one of the party guests.  He plants a big wet kiss on Beethoven’s lips!

From this point on, Dog Sees God becomes much more than just a hilarious and often raunchy comic gem. It is that, indeed, but in Royal’s perceptive script, it is also a touching love story, a look at the causes of homophobia, and a plea for acceptance.

It’s taken a few years for Dog Sees God to make it to L.A. Thankfully, the exciting new Havoc Theatre Company has chosen it as their second production, following the brilliant Thrill Me: The Story Of Leopold And Loeb.  Lightning can indeed strike twice, and DeGruccio proves himself equally adept at comedy/drama as he has proven again and again with the musicals he has worked his magic on.

DeGruccio and producer Chad Borden have once again assembled an absolutely sensational cast of young L.A. actors with impressive TV, film, and stage credits.

An endearing Joseph Porter adds real depth to CB.  His boy-next-door sweetness makes the revelation of CB’s capacity for cruelty all the more startling.  It’s hard to imagine a better fit between actor and role.

18-year-old Andrea Bowen may be best known for her role on Desperate Housewives, but she’s been starring in live theater since playing Cosette in Les Miz on Broadway at 6.  Here, she’s CB’s ditzy sister, who changes her wardrobe and religion on almost a daily basis, and she’s a hoot in the part, especially in her caterpillar to platypus monolog.

As Matt, Nick Ballard is so movie star handsome that it comes almost as a surprise what a fine actor he is. (Tom Cruise, meet your successor.) Megan McNulty has only one scene, as Van’s sister, but she makes it as memorable as any of the larger roles. It’s almost worth the price of admission to hear her shout, “I LOVE LITHIUM!”  Jaden Leigh’s very droll (but not at all superficial) Van belongs in the Stoner Hall Of Fame beside Sean Penn (in Fast Times At Ridgemont High) and of course Harold and Kumar.

Speaking of movie duos, Christine Lakin and Lauren Robyne’s Tricia and Marcy are so terrific together that some clever movie scribe would do well to write a screenplay for the two of them posthaste.  As the funniest and trendiest best friends this side of Paris and Nicole, Lakin and Robyne’s symbiosis is so perfect that they complete each others sentences before they’ve even begun to speak, and their work together will only get funnier as the run progresses.

Finally, there is the amazing Wyatt Fenner as Beethoven. From his first entrance, it is clear that this young actor has that special something that lights up a stage, even when playing a character who’d probably rather fade into the woodwork.  There are layers upon layers in Fenner’s performance, and when a smile finally lights up Beethoven’s face, the effect is incandescent.

Lucky indeed are these eight young actors to have been guided by the directorial master that is Nick DeGruccio. Under his assured hand, Dog Sees God moves effortlessly between comedy and tragedy and back again.

Tom Buederwitz’s set design is simple but effective, a patchwork of anime figures on the upstage walls, out of which Beethoven’s piano and the cafeteria tables slide out when needed. Steven Young and D. Benjamin Courtney’s lighting design accentuates the play’s comic and dramatic moments, and Borden is as fine (and imaginative) a costume designer as he is an actor/producer.  Fionnegan Justus Murphy’s sound design is likewise first rate, and DeGruccio’s selection of Mika hits (especially a particularly cleverly-timed (sucking too hard on your) Lollipop) is perfection.

Dog Sees God’s ending is sure to provoke discussion. What starts as an “I can’t believe they said that” comedy ends on a profoundly moving note. I’ve already seen Dog Sees God twice and I’m going back again.  It’s not often that a production affects me as strongly as this one most definitely has.

Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 

–Steven Stanley
June 7, 2008
Photos: Michael Lamont

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