BWW Reviews: DOG SEES GOD from Balagan Theatre
I guess it's just human nature to wonder what became of our beloved childhood icons when they grow up. Owe it to some sense of fictional closure if you must. And such is the subject of Balagan Theatre's season opener "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" by Bert V. Royal and directed by M. Elizabeth Eller as we look at the Peanuts gang as they are allowed to progress beyond their childlike state into angst ridden young adulthood. Unfortunately the current production tends to focus on the angst and not so much on the adulthood.
We all know the Peanuts gang but you may not know them like this, especially since the names are all just slightly altered or vague (I'm sure to prevent any copyright infringement). But I'm sure you can figure them out. CB (David Goldstein) is just your average teen trying to find his way in the world and is a little upset due to some distressing events with his dog. Problem is he hasn't found much of a way beyond where he was as a child. His sister, referred to only as CB's Sister (Libby Barnard), on the other hand has a new identity every week. The erudite Van (Harry Todd Jamieson) is still quite so but now more philosophical stemming from his ... um ... herbal intake. And his Sister (Megan Ahers) is in need of a psychiatrist of her own which is why she's locked up in an asylum after setting a little red haired girl's hair on fire. Tricia and Marcy (Allison Standley and Amy Hill) are still inseparable best friends although a lot more promiscuous. Matt (Ben McFadden) has turned into a typical jock but with a bit of an OCD problem. And Beethoven (Bobby Temple) seems to be the only one who has stayed true to himself from childhood as he still spends all day playing piano, however now the rest of the gang shuns him on their suspicion of his homosexuality. Yes they're all grown up and more than a little messed up.
Now I have to say, this is one of my favorite plays. It has held a special place in my heart since I saw its Off-Broadway run back in 2005. So I'm more than a little picky about what happens with it, which is why I was a bit disappointed in this production. The characters were all there, or rather the caricatures were. Everyone seemed to be a one note stereotype of a beleaguered teen that you might find on a teen drama from the CW. So much so that there was very little that was grounded in reality for these characters. And without that there was very little we could care about them. Right from the start Goldstein seems less upset about his dog and more angry about everything and just failed to hook me into his story. These are (or rather should be) very complex individuals and that just did not come across. There were two notable exceptions for me. Ahers manages in her lone scene to convey more truth than the rest do in the whole show and McFadden's breakdown scene was truly horrific. But the rest gave me very little to connect with and just came across as whiny. Plus they tended to fall into the trap of people playing teens in that they portrayed them less as young adults and more as petulant children or stupid.
Add into all of that the loss of a climactic scene that I know was in the production I saw that has been since removed from the published script and this becomes a poor imitation of a wonderful play. Maybe I shouldn't see plays that I've already seen before as nothing can compare to the original. Or maybe the cast and crew should try a little harder.
"Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" from Balagan Theatre plays at ACT through October 30th. For tickets or information contact the box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.balagantheatre.org or www.acttheatre.org.
Photo credit: Andrea Huysing