By Robin Gracia
Senior Staff Writer
Oh, good grief. The Peanuts characters have all grown up and are now attending high school. As it turns out, life is not always as simple or as innocent as a comic strip. Charlie Brown, Pigpen, Lucy and the gang have all taken up residence at The Empty Space Theatre and are grappling with the issues of teens today. These issues include drugs, homophobia, arson, promiscuity and loss. ‘Dog Sees God’ turns Schulz’s pleasant world into a scathingly funny psychological thrill that you can’t help but become entranced with.
‘Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’, written by Bert V. Royal, had its world premiere at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival. The play was one of the breakout hits at the festival, winning the Excellence Award for Best Overall Production, as well as Theatermania’s Play Award of 2004 and the GLAAD Media Award for Best Off-Off Broadway production. Michael Pawloski, the director of the show at The Empty Space, saw the potential of the production and brought it to life here in town. “I love it; it’s my favorite play of all time,” said Pawloski, who is directing ‘Dog Sees God’ for the second time. “I love the message. I feel like everyone who comes to see this play can relate to it. Everyone can fall in love with at least one of the characters.”
Pawloski couldn’t be more correct; it’s easy to fall in love with the Peanuts gang because we grew up with them. Time, however, has taken its toll on the group of friends.
‘Dog Sees God’ opens with Charlie Brown, who is called C.B. by his friends, and his sister attending Snoopy’s funeral. Noticeably absent are all of C.B.’s friends, who were extended an invitation to say goodbye to the beloved black-and-white dog. The loss of Snoopy appeared to send C.B. into an emotional tailspin, which prompted him to ask the ultimate philosophical question to his friends, “What do you think happens when you die?” This question is never truly answered in the play, which allows the audience to engage with the play on a deeper level.
“Playing C.B. was very challenging because of the emotional roller coaster that he goes through from start to finish,” said Justin Brooks, an East Bakersfield High teacher who plays C.B. “The death of his dog threw his life into a whirlwind because he was always so predictable,” said Brooks.
C.B. attempts to seek comfort in his friends in regard to his dearly departed canine but quickly finds the gang is far too self-involved to console him. C.B. first seeks advice from Van (who should be interpreted as Linus), played by theatre veteran Tim Anthony, who brings levity to the play as well as profound philosophical thoughts on what the afterlife entails. Van explains to C.B., in a marijuana induced haze, that even if nothing happens when you die that “even nothing is something”.
While humor is peppered into ‘Dog Sees God’, there is no shortcoming on intensity. Pig Pen, who goes by Matt in his teen years, has become a homophobe, germaphobe and rage-a-holic. Lucy is in a mental institution. Marcy and Peppermint Patty have become promiscuous, gossipy “mean girls”. Despite all of their differences and shortcomings, they’ve managed to all stay friends. True to life, though, one individual is left out: Schroeder, who is identified as Beethoven in the play. Beethoven, played by CSUB’s own Miguel Torres, portrays a teen tortured because of his perceived homosexuality. Torres captures the meek Beethoven masterfully, pulling heartstrings with his soulful eyes when faced with adversary. C.B. and Beethoven’s friendship creates a controversy amongst the tumultuous group of friends, which creates a devastating ripple effect for all involved. ‘Dog Sees God’ keeps the audience on the edge of their seat while keeping the audience questioning what happens after the curtain closes on the Peanuts gang.
‘Dog Sees God’ will make you laugh at the situations we’ve all been in; angry at the injustices that are inflicted on the undeserved and thoughtful about the future. The play’s overall tone is “hopeful”, according to Torres. When audience members leave, he wants for people to feel “encouragement to explore and change”.
‘Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’ is playing April 19 – April 27 on Fridays and Saturdays at The Empty Space at 11:00 p.m. There will be one matinee showing on April 28 at 2:00 p.m. In order to guarantee yourself a seat, call The Empty Space Theatre at (661) 327-7529 to make a reservation for this limited engagement showing. Admission is $5. A play of this caliber of direction coupled with a containing such talent is bound to sell out, so make your reservations as soon as possible.