Arts Reviews

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead Reviewed

By Doug Strassler Dec 19, 2005, 7:39 GMT

Eddie Kay Thomas and Keith Nobbs
Are there any Charlie Brown fans out there who really clamored for a modern-day take on the Peanuts gang?  Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead provides a glimpse of what happened when Mr. Brown and his friends went through puberty and endured the battleground of high school.  In fact, God feels like the result of what might have happened had late Peanuts creator Charles Schulz been hired as a writer on Degrassi: The Next Generation.  The show features characters dealing with drug use, threesomes, homosexuality, hate crimes and suicide.  Yep, this show definitely goes there.

The play begins in the aftermath of a most unfortunate event: beloved Snoopy has died.  While most characters are sympathetic to Charlie Brown, here known as CB (played by Eddie Kaye Thomas of American Pie), their minds are all elsewhere.  His friend Linus, now known as Van (Keith Nobbs), is a pothead who even smoked his own signature security blanket.  Pigpen is now Matt (Ian Somerhalder, late of Lost) a germophobic, homophobic horn dog who often takes up with Tricia and Marcy (Kelli Garner and Ari Graynor), the sapphic, Valley Girl updates of Peppermint Patty and Marcie.  America Ferrara stars as a goth version of Sally, known simply in God as CB's Sister.

Things turn slightly sinister in Bert V. Royal's script (which first premiered at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival) with the entrance of Beethoven (Logan Marshal-Green, a FOX staple last year with recurring roles on both 24 and The O.C.), formerly Schroeder and now a sexually confused teen who may have been molested by his jailed father (no, the show never veers far from the dark side).  It's not long before CB and Beethoven come out of the closet together, with repercussions for all other characters.

Director Trip Cullman guides the action in God smoothly, particularly in the show's earlier, lighter scenes (particularly when making direct reference to the strip and imitating the characters' dances from the cartoon), but once it abandons black comedy to melodrama, his scenes feel purely episodic and the show feels tired.  Marshal-Green is actually a nice surprise, able to hold his own ground during these later scenes.  But it is when Royal mines more comic material that God has liftoff, especially in the interplay between Garner and Graynor, who demonstrate an enormous deal of physical and lingual discipline as the depraved mean girls.  Nobbs, too, is also quite effective, underplaying Van to the hilt.

Eliza Dushku and Eddie Kay Thomas
It is likely that the main reason audience see God at Gramercy's Century Center for the Performing Arts is not loyalty to the Peanuts gang but the show's the cast of B-minus list television stars, which also includes top-billed Eliza Dushku (of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in little more than an extended cameo as Lucy, Charlie Brown's nemesis.  Here, she is merely Van's Sister, imprisoned for an unfortunate pyromania addiction.  It is a shame that Royal could not find a way to string God together in a way that didn't feel merely like a series of vignettes.

It is a shame, too, that the uneven show gets so serious by the end, lifting its coda from no less stark a source than Alexander Payne's About Schmidt.  This is, after all, a show adapted, however loosely, from a comic strip.  So why must it end in a character's death?  That's not funny.

Good grief!

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