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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

It's the Real World, Charlie Brown, in
Balagan Theatre's Masterful Dog Sees God

Dog Sees God
Libby Barnard, David Goldstein, Bobby Temple and Amy Hill
Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" (still reprinted today) is indisputably the most wide-reaching comic strip ever, spawning countless TV specials, two Off-Broadway musicals, and two feature films. Though not officially sanctioned by the Schulz estate, playwright Bert Royal's bracing play Dog Sees God: Confessions of A Teenage Blockhead presents the inevitable serio-comic look at what happened to the "Peanuts" gang by the time they reach high school. Balagan Theatre's production, expertly directed by Elizabeth Eller, and performed without a false note by a sharp acting ensemble, easily ranks alongside ACT Theatre's Mary Stuart as the most outstanding production of a play I have seen in all of 2011.

No spoiler to say that Charlie Brown (CB here) has lost his beloved dog Snoopy, who indeed became the star of the whole "Peanuts" world. His chum Van, aka Linus, has become a pothead and, no joke, smoked his blanket, while his sister Lucy set the strip's never seen Little Red Haired girl's hair on fire, landing her in the funny farm where she still gives out psychiatric advice. Beethoven (Schroeder) is still an accomplished pianist, but now alienated from the gang, and presumed to be gay, especially by Matt, a germophobe/homophobe who reacts violently when anyone eludes to his former, well-deserved nickname of Pig-Pen. And Tricia York, once Peppermint Patty, is a sex-obsessed loser, still pals (and maybe more) with her friend Marcy (one of the two characters, along with Lucy, who retain their names from the strip).

CB isn't quite the pariah he once was, thanks to his affiliation with the explosive and dangerous Matt, though his Sister (Sally) is dismayed by his modern-day persona. CB's efforts to rekindle a friendship with Beethoven lead to dire consequences, yet the conclusion of the show has an uplift, as a key ingredient of the original "Peanuts" tales is woven in.

Playwright Royal has done the near impossible by capturing the wry wit of Schulz and interweaving it into a world where bullied and estranged young people are told to hold onto an uncertain promise that "It Gets Better." Eller's compelling cast is an all- star team of young actors, none of whom ever strike a false note. David Goldstein's CB is not as easy to commiserate with as the Chuck of old, but Goldstein makes him fascinating, and, as his sister Libby, Barnard captivates as a girl still experimenting with just who she wants to be. Bobby Temple is beyond touching as Van, who yearns for the days when everyone was friends, while Ben MacFadden gives a chilling performance as the messed up Matt, in a case of brilliantly fleshing out a really minor, though memorable, character in the "Peanuts" pantheon. Megan Ahiers, whose Lucy arrives late in the plot, poignantly shows us a character who seems to have perhaps grown the most of the whole gang, while retaining her wry sense of humor. Allison Standley etches a fascinating Tricia, and Amy Hill lightens things up as the perennial sidekick Marcy.

Balagan is the first company to use ACT Theatre's newest venue, The Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space. The small, tidy black box comfortably houses Ahren Buhmann's clever, two- level set, which incorporates elements of Schulziana (the dog house, the "Dr. is in" sign) with the school the gang attends. Co-costume designers Hannah Schnabel and Jen Moon have wisely outfitted the cast with clothing that makes little effort to suggest any of the gang's childhood apparel, a nod to the changes in the characters.

Like many of my 1960s childhood peers, I grew up wishing for the idealized "Peanuts" world to be the world I lived in, and simpler though it was, I realized quickly enough it was escapist fantasy tinged with very real observations. There is nothing escapist about Dog Sees God, but it is a very enveloping piece, and deserves to, in fact demands to be seen.

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.



- David Edward Hughes



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