BWW Review: DOG SEES GOD at South Shore Theatre Experience
Drug use, underage sex and juvenile delinquency - that is the reality of the beloved Peanuts gang in "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," presented by the South Shore Theatre Experience in Lindenhurst until January 19.
The controversial play is protected under the label of parody and is not authorized or approved by the estate of Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the original Peanuts comic strip and cartoons. The dark reflection on the development of the characters not only remains relevant since its world premiere at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival, but eerily reflective on today's selfie-obsessed teens struggling with a crisis in identity.
Relative Long Island community theatre newcomer Charlie Baldwin leads this talented ensemble as CB. Not much has changed for the insecure, often melancholy young man - including his knack for yellow, black zig-zagged shirts - except for the plague of teenage hormones and peer pressure. His opening monologue about the demise of his dog is tear-inducing, setting the tone for what becomes an addicting 90 minutes of theatre.
Nevertheless, he maintains the same core group of friends. However, they have all evolved - for better or worse. The blanket toting Linus remains his old philosophical self as Van, however, he has become a complete stoner. Thaddeus Plezia entertains with his long winded observation oriented monologues and humorous one liners.
Meanwhile, Matt - formerly known as Pig Pen, a nickname that now induces fits of rage - has become one of CB's best friend despite his jock status and playboy aspirations. Danny Schinina, a longtime veteran of South Shore Theatre Experience and many other companies, successfully plays against type as a truly despicable character who leads a homophobic charge against the meek and introverted Beethoven, or Schroeder, played by the magnificent Nick Caron. His subtle body language and choices show his dedication to the character and what he comes to represent - the silent bullied population in high schools who lose their voice out of fear of their individuality.
Peppermint Patty - who goes by Tricia - and Marcy also exist in this universe. They are the quintessential mean girls - ruling the cafeteria with sporks and Kahlua-spiked milk cartons in hand. Angeline Meller and Natalie Knapp pull off the roles well and leave you with a soft spot for them despite the pettiness of their characters.
Circling around the core group is the effervescent Rita Sarli as CB's sister - Sally in the Peanuts cartoons, but unnamed in this version. Ms. Sarli is a ball of manic energy as her character struggles to find an identity - over the course of the show she fleets from goth to hippie to "platypus," stealing scenes left and right.
Rosie Collette is also a standout as Van's Sister - also unnamed, but meant to be Lucy - who has been incarcerated on arson charges. At one point CB visits her at the detention center/mental health facility where we find she has taken up knitting - although the idea of such a place allowing sharp objects such as knitting needles is questionable. Their chemistry, however, is undeniable and you feel the nostalgia and history behind these two cartoon icons who have fallen so far.
The production is presented in South Shore's black box-esque theater, but the setting is appropriate since the play can be executed well even with a minimalist set design. During the performance I attended there were a few issues with set changes, however being that is was still opening weekend I am confident they have been polished.
Overall, if you grew up on the Peanuts you may find the material in this production alarming, but I would encourage audiences to keep their minds open. Without spoiling the plot, the play shares an important message that aims to speak out against hate and following the herd. The material may be mature, but it wouldn't hurt for today's young people to see the show and learn from these character's mistakes.
"Dog Sees God" is presented by the South Shore Theatre Experience, located at 115 South Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst, through January 19. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 631-669-0506 or visit southshoretheatre.com
Written by Bert V. Royal
Directed by Martin Knapp
Cast: Charlie Baldwin as CB, Rita Sarli as CB's Sister, Thaddeus Plezia as Van, Danny Schinina as Matt, Nick Caron as Beethoven, Natalie Knapp as Marcy, Angie Meller as Tricia, Rosie Collette as Van's Sister