That such sentiments provoke laughter from the audience
indicates the dizzying balance of tone director Dan Tursi has navigated
in staging Dog Sees God, a Rarely Done Productions
mounting at Jazz Central, 441 E. Washington St. Some of the humor comes
from playwright Royal’s cheekiness in tweaking the Peanuts icons. Yet
we never doubt that CBs grief is real.
That’s what the title means. Through the
next 2½ loosely plotted hours CB is on a circuitous quest to ask what
death means to all his old pals. It’s a weighty subject for
comedy, less reliable than drunks or mothers-in-law. Not that CB finds
God, although at one point he asks if all the characters are nothing
but a creator’s playthings with no meaning of their own, destined only
to amuse. Tursi’s agile hand cannot prevent Royal’s script from
lurching toward despair in the second act, however. Dog Sees God is a dark, disturbing comedy, intended to unsettle after the laughter fades.
More of the laughter comes in the first act when
playwright Royal shows us how ironically he has projected the
characters into the future. CB’s first encounter is with his sister
(Angela Newman), who is never called Sally. She has morphed into a
chain-smoking, foulmouthed Goth. Nothing distinctive about her
vocabulary; most of the characters, CB excepted, are graduates of the
David Mamet School of Theatrical Profanity. CB’s sister, pointedly
self-obsessed, could care less about the dog but instead marshals all
her energies toward a one-woman performance art show about how she
evolved into a platypus instead of the expected butterfly. We see the
results in the second act, which are not really so far from what a road
company Laurie Anderson might have produced.
A program note reminds us that Dog Sees God has
not been authorized by the Schulz estate or the famously litigious
United Features Syndicate, not surprisingly. It’s just as well. Those
characters are ingrained in the national psyche and belong to us.
Seeing what Royal has done with them gives substantial amusement.
Linus has become Van (Jordan Glaski), a Buddhist pothead
(an oxymoron?) and slacker who speaks often of his lusts, especially
for fellatio. He tells us more than once he has rolled up his famous
blanket and smoked it. Reversing his portrayal in the strip is Matt
(Brian Hensley), the former Pigpen. Now a bleached-blond jock with a
germ obsession, he rubs disinfectant on his hands whenever he’s forced
to touch somebody.
Peanuts to you: Ryan Diana and Jordan Glaski in Rarely Done’s Dog Sees God.
Matt also bullies pianist Beethoven (Rob Fonda), the
former Schroeder, whose taste now runs to gloomier, poignant works by
Chopin. Long out of the closet, Beethoven has become a tormented,
lonely gay boy, isolated from other students. Tursi has prescribed
Beethoven a kind of sissy walk, but Fonda, a blond with leading-man
good looks, does not give the character any mincing mannerisms. Dog Sees God, not incidentally, has won a GLAAD award—Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination.
Two trampy cheerleaders, Marcy (Erin Race) and Tricia
(Jodie Baum), the latter a teen Peppermint Patty, gossip about everyone
else while spiking their lunchroom drinks with booze. Structurally, the
cheerleaders give us important exposition we don’t get elsewhere, but
Royal’s pen serves him least well in their catty dialogues. Race and
Baum are fun and incisive, but somehow their jokes are the most
sophomoric (expected of teenagers) in the show, like reminding us that
“come,” as in “arrive,” is also the street term for ejaculation. Marcy
favors a kind of Elisabeth Hasselbeck piety, and Tricia mocks her:
“WWJD? Who wants jelly doughnuts?”
Not until the second act do we find out what happened to
Lucy, here called Van’s Sister (Shannon Tompkins). After being judged a
pyromaniac for setting fire to the Little Redheaded Girl’s curl, she is
confined to the padded cell of an asylum, when CB comes to visit her.
So much for all that cheap psychiatric advice.
Amid CB’s spiritual and intellectual quest, someone
breaks rank and gives Beethoven an appreciative smooch right on the
kisser. Even this modest summary of Dog Sees God probably
implies to the reader who that might be. But as this outburst of
emotion is so unexpected, indeed unanticipated in the first hour of the
action, it’s probably unethical to reveal the name here. Suffice it to
say, the outing of another member of the company changes the direction
of CB’s journey.
Tursi’s Rarely Done relies again on a core of regulars,
like Rob Fonda, Jodie Baum, Erin Race, Brian Hensley and Shannon
Tompkins, who thrive on playing against type. Angela Newman, often seen
as a crazy, delivers a markedly sane Goth. Less often seen is superb
villain Jordan Glaski, who also provided the sound design. The real
newcomer is Ryan Diana as CB, who speaks the most lines. He’s open,
candid and vulnerable—if not exactly such a blockhead.
This production runs through Oct. 18. See Times Table for information.