Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Despite its age, there are aspects of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown that feel highly contemporary, beginning with its highly ironic core: children facing the world with an often adult point of viïew and level of experience. Charlie Brown exhibits major depression and social anxiety. Linus has an intellectual take on almost everything that happens in his world. Schroeder plays the piano with the skill of a concert soloist. Lucy "works" as a psychiatrist. Add to this the dark view of human relations (specifically the cruel ways the other characters treat Charlie Brownwhile still calling him a "good man"and a dog with a vivid fantasy life, and you have something that could have come from the mind of Seth McFarlane, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Minus the profanity.
Director Marty Pistone takes full advantage of both this ironic, contemporary tone and the childlike innocence that gives the irony its bite. It's possible audiences come to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown yearning for the simpler times of childhood, only to discover a world as fraught with anxiety as our own and be forced to contemplate one of the key conundrums of humanity: how to be liked, or even loved, by others without sacrificing one's core identity.
The humor here often comes from a sense of schadenfreude, as we watch perennial loser Charlie Brown get pummeled from all sides: Lucy, sister Sally, opposing baseball teams, kites ... As Charlie, Dominic Williams gets the meekness right, but hasn't quite found the route to Charlie's misery; his performance feels just a little too tense and reserved.
Reserved, however, is not an apt term for Erik Weiss's performance as Snoopy. He brings a fearless hound energy to Snoopy's interactions with humans, and an imaginative abandon to the fantasy scenes where he becomes a WWI flying ace hunting the Red Baron or a wild jungle beast. (But note to costume designer Gail Reine: Snoopy looks naked without his floppy black ears!) Amy Webber's Lucy is a delight to watch: she pulls off the entitled bossiness with terrific ease, yet somehow manages to make us like her, despite her trademark crabbiness. She perhaps shines brightest in the number "Little Known Facts," channeling Kellyanne Conway as she recites a litany of "alternative facts" with complete conviction.
But it's Katie Kelley's Sally who steals the show, with a casual narcissism and imperious dismissiveness and entitlement that is delightful to behold. Sally would never give up her core identity to be liked. It's clear she feels the universe is there to serve her. "I don't know much about the past," she says, "I wasn't there when it happened." Then, in a moment of existential grief while jumping rope"Suddenly, it all seemed so futile"the sudden-self-awareness stands out in contrast. Kelley has a fantastic energy and wonderful sense of how to land a line for maximum impact.
Director Pistone uses some charming bits of stagecraft to support the story, especially the finale of Charlie Brown's attempt at kite-flying and Linus' pas de deux with his blanket. Homespun animations on a projection screen upstage center provide backdrop to several key scenes, but their simplicity is occasionally marred by clumsy effects.
Though there are some deep, dark issues going on here, they are handled with a light touchthe songs are simple and melodic, and the book maintains the nave-yet-jaded nature of Schulz' characters. Ultimately, though, we are led out of the darkness of childhood anxiety, unrequited love, obsessions, etc., and to the final number, "Happiness," that throws all that aside to celebrate the simple pleasures of life. All the adult concerns melt away as the kids sing about things kids love: "Happiness is finding a pencil, pizza with sausage, telling the time. Happiness is learning to whistle, tying your shoe for the very first time."
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs through September 17, 2017, in the G.K. Hardt Theater at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $38 general admission, $33 seniors, $22 under 30 and children 5-12 $15 Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees, and $33 general, $28 for seniors, $22 under 30 and children 5-12 $15 on Thursdays and Saturday matinees. Tickets are available online at www.6thStreetPlayhouse.com, by calling the box office at 707-523-4185, or during open Box Office hours.