BWW Review: Prologue Theatre's DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD an Edgy, Wild Ride
It takes guts to grab hold of a national treasure, twist it, and turn it into a mirror of contemporary high school angst. Especially if you never went to high school (lucky dog). It's not easy to pull this off, by any stretch; our culture is littered with petulant attempts to tear down what we hold dear.
So when a writer comes along and does a vivid number on characters you've grown up with, and when he shows them mean, shallow, violent, ugly, but completely empathetic, it's awesomely watchable. And it reaches into you, in ways only live theatre can do.
Welcome to the slyly twisted world of Bert V. Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead." Think, awkward kid in black and yellow; think, little red doghouse out in back. Think, doggie with a little yellow bird as a buddy. Now think of that doggie-birdie friendship taking a violent, tragic turn.
Then think of that little red-headed girl (on fire; but I'm getting ahead of myself)...
Prologue Theatre is putting its own stamp on a play that has acquired a huge cult following over the years, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. Bristling with edgy, memorable performances, the cast takes you right back into the hell of those teenage years, when hurting people, both physically and emotionally, is done as casually as ordering a latte or chucking a tater tot across the cafeteria.
Note, too, the fine print in your program: "DOG SEES GOD has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Charles M. Schultz Estate or United Features Syndicate, which have no responsibility for its content."
(Like, this is going to turn us away? Exactly the opposite. Bring it on.)
Noah Schaefer leads the cast as "CB" (you know who), and the show opens with him writing to that ephemeral pen pal, mourning the loss of his dog. CB is lost, and it doesn't help that his friends don't care enough to join him for his dog's backyard funeral. And that's just the start.
Schaefer has a riveting combination of vacancy, helplessness, and turn-on-a-dime fury that drives the action from start to finish. He is ably matched by Sophie Schulman, who as his sister plays out-and dresses-the constantly-shifting sense of identity that CB himself struggles with. Her determination to form a drama club (of which she is the only member) isn't helped by her hilariously off-kilter concept for a one-woman show. Set in a cocoon. How fitting.
The typically voracious, emotionally destructive party girl-Tricia-is played to a mean-girl "t" by Annie Ottati, whose character's appetite for sex is almost as big as her appetite for character assassination. Her insecure fan club - Marcy-is given a nuanced turn by Vanessa Chapoy, who embodies that need for acceptance which got so many of us in deep trouble in our younger days.
Royal's plot revolves primarily around the competition between BMOC Matt (played by mad, bad, and dangerous to know Conor Patrick Donahue) and the painfully shy Beethoven (the quietly powerful Tiaiano D'Affuso), who skulks around the stage with his book of Chopin études and occasionally plays a few passages on a spinet piano set off to one side. The triangle of CB, Matt and Beethoven creates tensions that have fatal consequences, and leaves us with much to contemplate.
The show is ultimately about our responsibility to each other, but it's also about how easily we neglect that responsibility, especially at a time when we're desperate to figure out who the hell we are, and whether or how we fit in. Casual malice, flip choices made for what looks like cheap effect, all have long-term consequences, if we only knew it back then.
Andrew R. Cohen's set consists of brick walls painted in sky tones with clouds, a curious combination of confinement and freedom, which reflects the lives of the characters here. (The bleachers and cafeteria, set off from a downstage doghouse, are a nice touch as well). Sydney Moore's costumes--especially for CB's sister!--are sometimes subtly suggestive of the Peanuts characters they're based upon, but more often than not we're treated to the kind of stuff kids actually will be seen dead wearing these days-a novel concept. Naviz Azeez's sound design creates some fine atmospherics, and of course the strains of Chopin add a layer of emotion to the action that is hard to forget.
"Dog Sees God" is a rare item; a wicked satire that is so much more than just a tearing-down of cultural icons. It's rich with insight into our vulnerabilities, and forces us to think hard about what we owe to each other.
Production Photo, Left to Right: Noah Schaefer (CB) and Tiziano D'Affuso (Beethoven). Photo: DJ Corey Photography.
Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
God Sees Dog: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead runs through November 3 at the Dance Loft on 14, 4618 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
For tickets and directions visit: https://www.artful.ly/prologuetheatre/store/events/18010 .