BWW Review: Teens Prove Talent Is Ageless As They Bring DOG SEES GOD To Hollywood
Perhaps in anyone else's mind Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts characters are forever young: Charlie Brown with Snoopy, Lucy yelling at her friends, Linus with his beloved blanket, and Schroeder at the piano - but for Bert Royal, his vision of the Peanuts characters grew up to be teenagers in his play DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD, and for any regular Peanuts fan, perhaps that's difficult to imagine. However, at The Blank Theater in Hollywood this weekend under the teen founded Worst First Kiss Productions, it wasn't difficult to imagine at all. Teenage Peanuts characters look like the 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival favorites - an incredible all teenage cast of DOG SEES GOD.
Directed by Wicked the Musical and theater veteran, Jonah Platt, this cast brings to light all the issues that teens today may be too nervous or afraid to talk about. Pushing aside the idea that most teenage roles in the theatrical or cinematic universe have been played by people well beyond their teenage years, the cast of DOG SEES GOD takes on their roles with grace, maturity, and believability. Not shying away from what might be viewed as taboo topics like drugs, alcohol, sexuality, or suicide, this cast not only portrays each and every situation in the most believable way, but simultaneously begs the audience to recognize how important and influential simple things like acceptance, inclusion, and friendship can be in any teen's life.
CB, played by Chandler David, opens the show with a hauntingly sad yet brilliant opening monologue, highlighting his loneliness when he realizes that the only person to show up at his dog's funeral is his sister. However, through David's ability to grab the audience's attention, it becomes clear as CB encounters his friends throughout the school day that he isn't alone. CB and each of his friends are also trying to search for answers about life and are just as confused as he is. David remarkably conveyed how it looks and what it feels like to be questioning the purpose of life on a stage, showing that although CB feels lost, with his friends around, maybe he isn't the only one.
CB's sister, played by Joey Maya Safchik, is introduced to the audience in the play's opening scene, but carries a lasting influence throughout the entirety of the show. As the up and coming teenage girl - the one searching for who they're supposed to be - Safchik's character seemed representative of the possibility that any teenager, if given the chance to grow, has the opportunity to become who they want to be. Her character's one-woman show within the show about a caterpillar who wants to turn into something more than a butterfly, metaphorically symbolizes how every teenager reaches to be something more. Safchik's portrayal of a girl trying to find her own identity and her critique on a metamorphosis, whether for a caterpillar or a teenage soul, was one of the show's highlights.
Van, whose character is loosely based off Schulz's Linus, then takes to the stage. There is no blanket slung over his shoulder however, as he's grown and is now more interested in drugs and girls than anything else. Corey Fogelmanis, gave a daringly dark yet captivating performance. While his character may be dealing with one of the most serious issues in the show, Fogelmanis's comedic ability to portray a carefree mentality in the midst of all his friends nearing mental breakdowns was the light of the show. He never lost touch with his character, from sitting slumped on the steps to dancing alone at a party, his portrayal of teenage charm and broken innocence gave the show a great complexity.
James Sanger delivers an incredible performance as Beethoven, a teen who has been tormented throughout the halls of his high school by his classmates for years. In an effort to bury his pain, he spends part of his school day in the music room, reserved solely for his piano playing. Sanger had the ability to eloquently convey the pain of being an outcast in a teen's world where fitting in matters. Shedding light on sexuality, bullying, and the price one pays in order to freely express themselves, Sanger's performance was deeply moving.
CB's best friend, Matt, played by Gabriel Nunag, brought up the energy level in the room from the very second he appeared onstage. With his pride running off his ability to hook up with any girl he wants, Matt displays a deep hatred for Beethoven, and constantly torments him. Though Matt is portrayed at first to be a stereotypical bully, the show raises awareness that his unkind nature may be a result of his own insecurities. Nunag's performance was a remarkable one, as no part of his anger was ever unbelievable. It was evident that Matt's struggle was as real onstage as it is for other teens in real life, and Nunag's continuous delivery of anger, pain, and abandoned love brought that realization into a new light.
No high school story seems complete without the inclusion of a popularity queen running the school, and that's when Tricia, played by Rosey Murrah, enters the stage. At first glance, she seems like the typical head cheerleader type character, but when listened to more closely, her teasing other girls hints that she may also be struggling with her true identity, and copes with it the same way Matt does - through bullying. Murrah's exceptional portrayal of a girl spiraling out of control and sobriety to try to accept herself was nothing short of amazing. She re-opened doors to the idea that people are not always who we think they are.
Tricia's best friend, Marcy, played by Judy Durkin, is an equally funny yet eye-opening character. First portrayed as Tricia's sidekick, Marcy continuously agrees with everything her friend says, highlighting how peer pressure influences a teen's decisions. While she enjoys throwing wild parties while her parents aren't home, Marcy also still struggles to think for herself without the pressures of approval from her popular friend. Durkin's comedic portrayal of Marcy brought laughter into the theater, and her undeniable talent to convey the difficult emotions of a girl trying to be her own self shed light on the importance of individuality.
In a stunning monologue delivered by Zoe D'Andrea who enters the show as Van's sister behind bars, her character's story, involving fire, a hatred for innocence, and / or love for a boy who may not be able to love her back, left the audience wondering which statement she had said was the actual truth - every word she spoke seemed intriguingly truthful. In her conversation with CB, she laughs at how much she's missing out on with her friends, hinting at the fact that maybe there is an upside to living a teenage life. D'Andrea's portrayal of a lost teen soul nearing the edge of delinquency was phenomenal.
Founded by Safchik, David, Durkin, and Charlotte Weinman, who are also the executive producers of DOG SEES GOD, Worst First Kiss Productions are proud to be opening doors to greater conversations on such important topics through theater. Director, Jonah Platt, is also equally proud of the cast he has gotten to create this show with: "I was so impressed by this young group of producers -- teens willing to do the work to create their own opportunities for themselves to perform the kind of material they felt they deserved. Their passion is what initially inspired me to be involved. All these actors work extremely hard, care deeply, and have shown enormous growth over the scant 10 shows we've done together. I'm constantly amazed at their range and ability."
As the lights went up for curtain call, the theater erupted with applause. Cheers and whistles filled the room as Chandler David took his bow, and every cast member stepped into their spotlight. Following the show, there were several people saying that they needed to take a breath or dry their tears before they could get up and leave their seats. In a time when the voices of younger generations are calling to be heard, DOG SEES GOD is a fitting play - and as this cast proved it to be so influential, it's a necessary play.
Worst First Kiss Productions and the entire cast of DOG SEES GOD is showing that age truly is just a number. For those who have said teens can't play teen roles, The Hollywood Fringe Festival would disagree. After selling out all their extension dates, this cast is back for one more weekend of shows as part of the Fringe Encores Awards, proving themselves as part of the best of LA theater. This production is a unique and talented ensemble show that deserves to be seen and heard, especially by other teens. "You just don't really see any ensemble shows about teenagers, dealing with real issues affecting teenagers, being performed by actual teenagers," says Platt. "Our theater canon has shows like Grease, where 30 year olds play teens, nothing like DOG SEES GOD. The high school years are so formative for those going through, and such a time of nostalgia for those who are beyond it - so to get to revisit the Peanuts characters in their teen years is like nostalgia on top of nostalgia - it's just special."
If all young and new art were done as well as the teen cast of DOG SEES GOD and the team at Worst First Kiss, then let teenagers and the reality of their stories be heard.
Worst First Kiss Productions Present DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD at The Blank Theater in Hollywood, CA as part of their Fringe Encores Awards run. Tickets for their special encore performance on Saturday, July 22 at 2pm can be purchased here: http://wfkdogseesgod.brownpapertickets.com/ Tickets for performances on Sunday, July 23 can be purchased here: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4475 Don't miss the LAST WEEKEND of their Encore run at The Blank Theater, 6500 California Route 2, Los Angeles, CA 90038.