The Peanuts kids, now teens, face issues with a healthy mix of pathos and comedy.
It's a fairly good bet that when Charles Schulz created his beloved Peanuts cartoon strip, he never foresaw the futures that his characters live into in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, a decidedly adult spoof that is the debut production of the OUT!Cast Theatre company. Though some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and to avoid legal action), that's as far as the protection goes. Sexual identity, drug use and suicide are just a few of the issues these new incarnations face, and they do so, for the most part, with a healthy mix of pathos and comedy.
Friday night's opening at the Bartell Theatre was well received by a packed house that was clearly feeling the benefit of liquid refreshments. (The show began at 10:30 p.m.) Nonetheless, the cast rose to the challenge, overcoming a number of first-night jitters, and displaying a camaraderie that translated well to their empathetic audience. There were, to be sure, a number of stumbles, mostly because the actors had a tendency to rush their lines at crucial moments, and director Steve Noll's pacing was somewhat erratic. But the main points of Bert V. Royal's quip-filled script came across clearly enough.
The play begins with a despondent CB (played a little too hesitantly by Nick Kaprelian) writing to his pen-pal about the recent demise of his dog from rabies. (A certain yellow bird is another unfortunate victim of the canine's disease.) The play ends with a reply from said pen-pal, signing himself as CS (three guesses!) and commiserating on the death of CB's newfound love, Beethoven (a rather one-dimensional Adam Williams). These bookends serve as a physical extension of the palindrome of the play's title, and the intervening action has a sense of the cartoonish about it, with a series of brief scenes and vignettes standing in for storyboard frames. Some of the frames are, inevitably, more interesting than others, and some are almost superfluous; even at a humble hour-and-forty-minutes, with no intermission, the evening gets a little tedious.
There are, however, several very bright spots, with numerous witty references, both visual and auditory, to the original Peanuts series. Most of the acting rises above the merely serviceable, although there are often lapses into sotto voce that, even in the friendly confines of the Evjue, make some dialogue hard to catch. Nathan Figueroa's stoner portrayal of Van (the Linus character) hits several, ahem, high notes, and the relationship between Ginger Swart's Marcy and Kay Dixon's Tricia has the resonance of a true friendship about it.
The best performance of the evening is, unfortunately, the shortest. Leah Tirado as Van's sister (that's the fuss-budget Lucy) is head and shoulders above the rest. Currently serving time in a mental institution for setting fire to "that little red-headed girl's hair", she does the same thing to the play, bursting into life with a thoroughly manic quality that sets the place alight.
Production values are effectively minimal courtesy of Spike Garrett's lighting, Josiah Hensler's sound and Denny Berger's set pieces. They add sufficient atmosphere to a show that may not have you seeing God, but which certainly isn't peanuts.