Teens play teens, and winningly so, in Worst First Kiss Productions’ terrific intimate staging of Bert V. Royal’s hilarious, thought-provoking, ultimately transformative Dog Sees God: Confessions Of A Teenage Blockhead, a sold-out guest production this weekend only at Hollywood’s The Blank Theatre.
There’s CB, whose pet beagle has just been put down for rabies, piano prodigy Beethoven, trash-talking Tricia and her best friend Marcy, the once dirt-cloud-plagued Matt, and stoner Van (currently mourning the death-by-fire of his beloved blanket), with CB’s and Van’s sisters completing the gang.
CB (Chandler David) may still be mooning over the same cute red-headed classmate of his childhood years, but the lives of his friends have evolved in unexpected ways.
His sister (Joey Maya Salchik) changes religions as often as fashion statements, and though last week she was on a Christian kick, this week she’s gone Wiccan.
Van (Corey Fogelmanis) has turned pothead, and the onetime pigpen-dwelling Matt (Gabriel Nunag) now fancies himself ghetto.
Van’s sister (Zoe D’Andrea) is still putting up a sign stating “The Doctor is IN” and doling out advice at 5¢ a pop, though now she does it institutionalized.
Tricia and Marcy (Judy Durkin and Charlotte Weinman) spend most of their time trash-talking “fucking-fatty-fat-fucking-fatass-Frieda” and not so surreptitiously spiking their cafeteria drinks, though these two “mean girls” are not the only ones putting down classmates.
Matt in particular is such a verbal gay-basher that the mere sight of Beethoven (James Sanger) sets him off on a homophobic rant.
It it’s not already obvious, Dog Sees God’s R-rated language and subject matter makes it a likely hard sell for even the most progressive high school drama departments, no matter that these teens speak precisely like their real-life counterparts. Heck, many colleges might pass on a play featuring both F words (and even a couple instances of the one that starts with a C).
No wonder then that CB and friends are usually reserved for actors well into their twenties.
Not so for the seventeen-year-olds of Worst First Kiss, who nail each and every one of Royal’s cast of characters with particular authenticity, beginning with the absolutely marvelous David’s instantly engaging everyteen, a boy whom you might not notice in a crowded cafeteria but one who deserves (and justifies) every second of the attention we pay him on his journey of self-discovery.
Safchik’s acerbic but secretly caring CB’s Sister, Fogelmanis’s sweet stoner of a Van, and D’Andrea’s quietly tormented Van’s Sister are all three winners as well.
Sanger plays subtly against stereotype as the sensitive, bullied Beethoven, and Nunag taps into the self-hatred that can turn a teen from buddy to tormentor to powerful effect.
As for mean girls Marcy and Tricia, Durkin and Weinman nail every bitchy laugh line with razor-sharp timing that would do Regina George and the Plastics proud.
Director Maxwell Peters not only has helped in eliciting these eight memorable performances, he makes such imaginative use of the Blank’s double-decker stage that you almost don’t notice that the only scenic design are the pieces of furniture that get taken onstage and off with relative swiftness. (The “The Doctor Is IN” you window is a particularly smart choice, making it achingly clear just where Van’s sister is spending her time these days.)
As for Dog Sees God’s unexpectedly powerful final scene, thanks to musical director Zachary Marsh’s original composition (and some gorgeous cast harmonizing), it devastates as never before.
Technical director Austin Schumacher’s lighting and sound designs add to the effectiveness of Peters’ staging as do some just-right costumes.
David, Peters, Salchik, and Weinman are executive producers. Shana Chin is production stage manager. Ethan Treiman is publicity coordinator/associate producer.
Though CB and pals are set to give their last of four performances this afternoon, there’s talk of a much-deserved extension. CS up in heaven, if you could be so kind as to make that happen, L.A. theatergoers who may have missed Dog Sees God: Confessions Of A Teenage Blockhead the first time round will send up a chorus of grateful cheers.
The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.
February 11, 2107
Photo: Erin Flannery