What happens when those wholesome characters we remember from our childhood grow up to become rebellious teenagers with every problem imaginable? In Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, written by Bert V. Royal, produced by Passion Theatre Group at the Ashman Loft in Midland, and directed by Aidan Montgomery, the Peanuts gang has grown up and are facing much more serious problems than flying kites or seeing the Great Pumpkin.
CB (Nick Alfano) is going through a crisis after his beloved pet dog dies of rabies, and he is seeking answers from his friends about some deep life questions. Meanwhile, his friends are facing problems of their own, including drug use, eating disorders, sex, suicide, and violence as each character faces their own difficult coming of age journey. This being an “unauthorized parody” these well known characters are given new names, but we are given clues throughout the script to clue us in to who they used to be. CB’s Sister (Quinn Nichols) is struggling to discover who she is and where she fits into the world, Van (Dustin Ackley) is a pot smoking Buddhist who smoked his childhood security blanket, Matt (Jordon Snelenberger) is a high school jock who has overcome a childhood of uncleanliness and transformed into a germaphobe. Tricia and Marcy (Natalie Schwartz and Jackie-Grace Hendrickson) are high school mean girls trying desperately to stay popular. Van’s Sister (Leah Markowitz), CB’s former girlfriend, is just trying to survive life in a mental institution after setting a certain red headed girl’s hair on fire. And Beethoven (Elijah Schweikert), the piano prodigy, is just trying to survive high school after being ostracized by his group of friends when unsavory things were discovered about his father.
Many different real life issues are dealt with throughout the play, which can lead to it feeling a bit bogged down with sadness and drama. It did take a few scenes for the actors on opening night to find their groove, but they soon found the sweet spot between playing the drama and finding the comedy. By that point, however, the plot itself takes a turn becoming even more maudlin, so this struggle to not be buried in so much sadness and, pardon the pun, grief, continued throughout. Without spoiling too much about the show, there were struggles with establishing chemistry between a few key characters, with several of their scenes feeling awkward when they should at least partially begin feeling genuine and loving. There were several pairings that were successfully portrayed, particularly the awkward sweetness of the “first crush” between Nichols and Schweikert, the mean girls banter between Schwartz and Hendrickson, the sibling rivalry between Alfano and Nichols, and the tense bullying from Snelenberger. Markowitz nearly stole the show in one scene right in the middle of the play, providing some much needed tension relieving one liners and establishing a nice rapport with Alfano in her scene.
The Ashman Loft is not typically used as a performance space and was an interesting venue choice for this particular production. While I can appreciate the “bare bones” approach to this production, the large space had a tendency to swallow up a lot of the volume behind the actors’ lines, making some of the exchanges, particularly on the platform furthest away from the audience, a bit hard to understand and follow. The scenes throughout the show are pretty short. Individual scenes clipped along at a good pace, though the frequent scene changes had a tendency to interrupt the flow of the show. This was slightly alleviated by some well chosen music to keep the audience engaged. Costumes by Ally Nacarato represented each character and the role they played in the story well. Particularly successful were the costumes of CB’s Sister, who changes probably four or five times throughout the story, to fit whatever identity she chooses that week. At the beginning I assumed from CB’s oversized yellow shirt that each character’s costume would hint at which Peanuts character they were based on, but this didn’t seem to pan out with most of the other characters.
A lot of contemporary theatre is written to challenge audiences and Dog Sees God is no exception. I commend Passion for taking a risk and producing this play. If you want to be challenged, and probably laugh and cry in the process, I encourage you to check out this production. Be warned, there is strong language and strong sexual content, so don’t bring the kids, but enjoy an adult night out that will make you think.
Passion Theatre Group’s production of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead by Bert V. Royal continues its run at the Ashman Loft today, Saturday, July 13th at both 2:00pm and 7:30pm and Sunday, July 14th at 2:00pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at passiontheatre.ticketleap.com.