Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
University of New Mexico
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Dean's recent review of You Can't Take It With You

(top row) Josh Blanchard, Clara Johnson, Anelisa Montoya and Nick Pippin; (bottom row) Spencer Christian, Ann Sergent, Monica Villalba and Owen Danan Martin
Photo by Sam Katzz
There are many good plays and playwrights out there that I have have not come across. Fortunately, somebody knows they exist, and every once in a while we get to experience one of them in Albuquerque. Such a play is Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal, currently being staged as a student production at the University of New Mexico. I was expecting little, and it turned out that this play moved me more than most of the more famous plays that I've seen in the past few years. I wish everybody could see it.

Dog Sees God answers a question I had never thought to ask: What would the kids from the comic strip "Peanuts" be like in high school? Who would turn out to be a bully, who would be a stoner, who would be gay, who would have been sexually abused by his or her father? The answers are not what you might suppose.

Probably in order to avoid a cease and desist order from the estate of Charles Schulz, the names have been changed to some degree. Charlie Brown is CB (played by Nick Pippin), his sister Sally is now just CB's sister (Anelisa Montoya), Linus van Pelt is now Van (Josh Blanchard), his sister Lucy is now Van's sister (Clara Johnson), Schroeder is Beethoven (Owen Danan Martin), Peppermint Patty is Tricia (Ann Sergeant), Marcie is Marcy (Monica Villalba), and for some reason Pigpen is Matt (Spencer Christian Scott).

The play begins just after the "Old Yeller"-style death of Snoopy, and CB is bereft since Snoopy has been his pet forever. (The title comes from something that Beethoven tells CB: "They say that a dog sees god when he looks at his master. A cat looks in the mirror.") This leads to discussions with his classmates about what happens after we die and whether dogs go to heaven too. The students experiment with various religions, drugs, and sex and sexuality. The play was written in 2004, but the only difference between then and now that I can see is that the kids actually talk to each other instead of being on their cell phones all the time. Otherwise, these are fairly universal teen concerns and behaviors.

There are some laughs, but despite the fact that it's based on a cartoon, the play is primarily serious in tone and it ends in tragedy. It shook me up quite a bit, and suspect the same goes for the rest of the audience.

The play is very well directed by Rashaad Bond, a senior at the University of New Mexico. The set design by Kevin Holman, lighting by Kevin Hedrich, and costumes by Joseph Gurule are all nicely done. It would have been better if the production had been in the smaller theater at UNM, because I had to strain to hear some of the dialogue in the larger Rodey theater, but Hedda Gabler is opening there during the run of this show.

All the performers are students, and they are quite talented already. The heavy emotional scenes fall to Nick Pippin and Owen Danan Martin, and they perform them poignantly. Everybody else does a fine job as well. It's an impressive group of student actors that we have this semester. I encourage you not to be put off by the fact that this is a student production. It's one of the best things you're likely to see all year.

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal is being presented at the Rodey Theatre in the University of New Mexico Center for the Arts, on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Through November 13, 2016. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00.

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