Friday, November 06, 2009

Schultz' 'Peanuts' get salty in 'Dog Sees God'

Charlie Brown and Co. grow up in M&D's latest production

“Dog Sees God,” M&D Productions latest show, starts with a fantastic premise of showing Charles Schultz' “Peanuts” characters as teenagers and uses that as a springboard to address such issues as bullying, grieving and sexual discovery.

Since this is an unauthorized adaptation, many of the characters' names have been altered and when the show was first produced it was done under the label of parody to avoid copyright infringement.

The familiar characters are recognizable in Bert V. Royal's script, but they have grown up into swearing, drinking, drug-using, sexually-active teens. The content is no worse than your average R-rated teen comedy, but it is presented in a much more intelligent, thoughtful manner than most entertainment featuring teens.

The show opens with Charlie Brown, now CB (Eric Jordan), and CB's sister (Mary Moody) at a funeral for Snoopy, who had to be put down after going rabid. The death of Snoopy gets CB thinking about the afterlife, and he spends most of the show asking all his friends what they think happens after death.

Linus, now Van (Rafe Matregrano), has become a stoner, which makes perfect sense, since Linus was always going off on philosophical pontifications. Matregrano is absolutely hilarious in the role, nailing every one one of his pot-fueled rants. The best of the bunch: his hatred of Mexican pizza.

Sally, simply known as CB's sister, is constantly changing her world view, but for the duration of show is a Wiccan writing a one-woman show about a caterpillar turning into a platypus. We get to see parts of this show and they are amusing and oddly poignant as performed by Moody.

As was true in the comic strip, CB's sister antagonizes her brother, but ultimately is there for him. Moody and Jordan share a playfully barbed scene toward the end of the play that shows how siblings tease each other, but still care for one another.

Lucy (Rebekah Bushey), simply known as Van's sister, has been institutionalized for setting the Little Red Headed Girl's hair on fire, which, again makes sense. Her character was always a bit of a sadist — after all, she did always pull that football away from poor old Charlie Brown. Bushey only has one scene, but it is a good one as she offers up advice to CB even from the nuthouse.

Peppermint Patty, now Tricia (Amy Smullen), and Marcy (Ellen Hill) are catty mean girls who sit back at lunch mocking everyone. Smullen and Hill make a nice team. They are almost too good at giggling together. When events turn somber, Smullen and Hill reveal that the mean girl act is just a front.

Schroeder, now Beethoven (Matthew Stoker), still just wants to play his piano, but a dark secret from his childhood has made him a social outcast. Stoker gives a nicely restrained and believable performance as a quiet loner who is reluctant to accept CB's friendship. Stoker and Jordan share a very funny piano duet on “Heart and Soul” that scores all its laughs from their opposing facial expressions.

All of these character developments feel like a natural extension of the characters. The one exception is Pigpen, now Matt (Billy Cavanaugh), who has gone from a perpetual cloud of dust to being a germaphobic neat freak.

Matt has a perverse sense of humor and is violently homophobic and is essentially the villain of the piece. Cavanaugh is very good at portraying the character's seething anger, but at the same time hinting at the underlining hurt behind that rage.

Then there is Jordan at the center as CB holding it all together. Jordan, who has shown strength as a comedic actor in M&D's “How the Other Half Loves” and “Lend Me a Tenor,” nicely handles some heavy dramatic scenes. Throughout the show CB has monologues based on a letter he is writing to an unseen pen pal. Jordan is particularly effective in these monologues, in which he is both candid and vulnerable.

The set design by Mark DeLancy is sparse and features familiar iconic images from the comic strip including Snoopy's red doghouse, Schroeder's piano and the brick wall where Charlie Brown and Linus chat. The center piece is a giant piece of paper representing the letter CB is writing to his pen pal. Given the comic strip origins of the show, it is all the production needs.

Director Ken Martin has gotten extraordinary work out of all his actors and deals with the play's more sensitive subject matters in an honest way.

The show is running Thursdays through Saturdays until Nov. 21 at Your Theatre at Willow Commons in North Conway, N.H. There will be a talk back after the show Saturday, Nov. 7. For more information visit or call 662-7591.

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