For anyone who has ever wondered how the Peanuts gang might have turned out later in life, Brendan Hunt’s Absolutely Filthy now joins Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God in answering just that question; and though Royal’s Peanuts-As-Teens satire ends up more to my liking than Hunt’s Peanut-At-Thirty parody, it’s easy to understand why Absolutely Filthy became such a hit for Sacred Fools that they brought it back for five performances at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

absolutely-filthy-2013-sacred-fools-theatre-445x296 Originally titled Pigpen At 30 when it began in weekly installments as a contestant in the Fools’ Serial Killers series, Absolutely Filthy remains basically that, albeit now a two-hour-long look at how Pigpen might have turned out had the cloud of dirt and dust that seemed to follow him everywhere ended up not only enveloping his body but invading his mind as well.

Unwashed and unshaven for weeks if not months if not years, Pigpen has turned into a homeless, borderline schizophrenic nutcase, whose opening rant not only lasts about ten minutes (not coincidentally the length of a single Serial Killers segment), it has the extraordinary Hunt spinning a hula hoop throughout, the playwright’s inspired solution to the dilemma of how best to represent Pigpen’s ever-present dust cloud. (What makes Hunt’s hula-hooping even more awe-inspiring is that Absolutely Filthy in full-length form requires him to keep it up—literally—scene after scene after scene.)

A couple decades have now passed since Pigpen and his onetime pals’ schoolyard days, the childhood friends having gone their separate ways. Since Pigpen’s way is by far the most “separate” of the bunch, it’s no wonder he’s surprised when who should he happen to recognize one afternoon but an adult Marcie (Jaime Andrews), no longer sporting her trademark glasses, and no longer responding to any name but Marsha!

It turns out that ocular surgeon Marsha’s reason for being at the church where Pigpen likely spends his days asking for spare change is to attend a funeral, and not just any funeral, but that of good old Charlie Brown himself, who has died of “late onset encephalitis,” and whose memorial has reunited that old gang of his.

Robbie-Winston-Anna-Douglas-Shannon-Nelson-Jaime-Andrews-and-Curt-Bonnem-in-ABSOLUTELY-FILTHY-at-Scared-Fools. There’s Lucy Van Pelt (Anna Douglas), Charlie’s childhood nemesis turned hard-as-nails TV executive; her younger brother Linus (Robbie Winston), returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with a case of posttraumatic stress disorder, a pocket hankie now taking the place of his once ubiquitous blanket; Sally (Shannon Nelson), easily the most devastated of the bunch, for whom a reunion with Pigpen has a particularly deep significance; Schroeder (Curt Bonnem), piano prodigy turned self-involved gay rock star; Franklin (KJ Middlebrooks), the African-American kid who showed up in Charlie’s neighborhood in the late ‘60s and whose name no one can now remember, despite his having reached the rank of judge; and Peppermint Patty (Rachel Germaine), now a fashion design star with a fake French accent to match her international fame.

Scott-Golden-and-Shannon-Nelson-in-ABSOLUTELY-FILTHY-at-Scared-Fools. Even Charlie himself (Scott Golden) shows up in flashbacks and fantasy sequences, one of which features a German-speaking Snoopy (Erika Salomon) in WWI pilot mode.

For this reviewer, it’s particularly fascinating to compare the futures Hunt has imagined for the Charles M. Schulz characters and those imagined by Royal in Dog Sees God. Royal’s Linus ended up a teenage pothead, his Lucy institutionalized, and Patty and Marcie a pair of trash-talking mean girls. Coincidentally (or perhaps not so), both playwrights have Schroeder growing up gay. Most significantly, where Hunt has taken Pigpen to his absolutely filthiest extreme, Royal turned him into cleanliness freak and wannabe gangster.

Also, whereas Dog Sees God is most definitely an ensemble piece, Absolutely Filthy lives up to its original moniker. This is indeed a play about Pigpen At 30, its other characters relegated to supporting player status, a focus that is both its strength and its weakness.

Under Jeremy Aldridge’s sharp directorial hand, Hunt’s tour-de-force Pigpen tops even his Best Featured Actor Scenie-winning work in Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), in which he played the walls, windows, and floorboards of The Apartment, the crumbling domicile where an eleven-year old girl and her mother found escape from reality in fantasies of ‘N Sync’s Timberlake and Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones mode.

In Absolutely Filthy, the dazzling Hunt does no-holds-barred work of such powerful intensity that Pigpen becomes the train wreck you can’t take your eyes off, and Hunt does so without ever letting that hula hoop drop, even when stark naked, or nearly so (depending on whether that hanky stays put).

funeral Still, a little of Pigpen goes a long, long way, and with all those ten-minute episodes strung together into a two-act play, this reviewer couldn’t help wishing for more time spent with Hunt’s oh-so talented castmates—Andrew’s hyper-sensitive Marsha, Douglas’s barracuda of a Lucy, Winston’s adorably vulnerable Linus, Bonnem’s preening rock star Schroeder, Middlebrooks’ recovering alcoholic Franklin, Germaine’s délicieuse Peppermint Patty, Golden’s nebbishy (and sadly deceased) Charlie, and Salomon’s drolly Teutonic Snoopy.  They’re all wonderful, and I wanted more of them even if that meant less of Pigpen.

Fortunately, Sally’s particularly close connection with Pigpen means a good deal of stage time for the stunning Nelson, who digs deep into Charlie’s most bereaved mourner’s broken heart.

Absolutely Filthy features finely rendered cameo appearances by Kiff Scholl as Father Macalester, the priest officiating Charlie’s funeral; Aviva Pressman and Ed Goodman as a pair of surprise cartoon character guests; and most importantly by a droll Amir Levi as none other than Jesus Christ himself.

Like last year’s A Kind Of Love Story, Absolutely Filthy runs longer than it ought to. While each scene may be just the right length for a weekly Serial Killers competition, put together they could stand some pruning.

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s original scenic design has been simplified for the Fringe’s easy-on, easy-off requirements, but its graffiti-filled backdrop does the trick without the original accouterments. Jaimie Froemming’s costumes cue us in quickly to the adult each child has become. Douglas Gabrielle’s lighting is a far more complex design than you’d expect at a Fringe Festival show. Emily Donn scores top marks for her props design as does Michael Teoli for his edgy musical underscoring and Daniel Hoal for his sound design. Hazel Kuang is associate set designer. Goodman is assistant director. Absolutely Filthy is produced by Aldridge and Brian Wallis. Heatherlynn Gonzales is stage manager.

Having already seen a life beyond its initial Sacred Fools run earlier this year, Absolutely Filthy has proven its legs. Whether they can carry it on to the regional theater success of Dog Sees God would seem to depend on whether each and every future production can secure the services of its playwright as star. It’s hard to imagine another actor with Hunt’s particular talent—and balls—playing Pigpen At 30.

Note:  On the evening of the performance reviewed here, Absolutely Filthy won Best Of Fringe Awards as Top Of The Fringe and Best In Comedy, and Ezra Buzzington’s Spirit of Fringe Award for Best Performance (Male): Brendan Hunt


Hollywood Fringe Festival, 2013

–Steven Stanley
June 30, 2013
Photos (of original production): Shaela Cook

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