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Dog Sees God

Review of  Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead 

Corn Stock Winter Playhouse (at the Corn Stock Theatre Center)
By Douglas Okey

I’ll let you in on a secret (spoiler alert!): hatred and intolerance are bad.

What—no secret, you say? Then you can safely skip the current offering from the Corn Stock Winter Playhouse, Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.
Skip it, that is, unless your tastes run to scenes worthy of a mediocre sitcom and caricatures instead of real characters. Dog Sees God provides an abundance of these.

Odd as it may sound, we start with Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. Royal reimagines the familiar characters as adolescents, albeit under altered wink-and-a-nudge names that teeter just this side of a successful copyright-infringement lawsuit: Charlie Brown becomes “CB,” for instance, while Schroeder is “Beethoven.” Also undergoing a seismic shift are the characters’ personalities, with the Linus figure now a stoner and Marcy and Peppermint Patty a pair of oversexed party girls.

Were there some serious point to these metamorphoses—even within a comic context—we could go along and appreciate the view from outside the box. But we’re mostly left with questions.
No one expects teenagers to be sage and erudite, but why were these characters more eloquent, thoughtful, and articulate as eight-year-olds than as teenagers? Why is Charlie Brown suddenly the most popular kid in school?

Why does a play so clearly meant to enlighten audiences about sexual orientation suggest, disturbingly if not outright offensively, that homosexuality is the result of abuse by one’s parent of the same sex?

And homophobes, it turns out, are easy to spot: they ooze villainy from every aspect of their personalities. Right, and Ted Bundy sported a sign around his neck declaring, “I’m a serial killer.” If Royal wanted to make a point about intolerance, he should have shown us something to approximate reality: that the face of bigotry, like the broader portrait of evil, is often banal, as Hannah Arendt reminds us. Bigotry often results NOT from a will to intolerance but from real ignorance. I know—such a revelation hardly reveals, yet Royal’s script can’t rise even to that level of nuance.

Director Nyk Sutter and his cast probably manage as well as they can with this confounding material. The one-dimensional characters in the script simply invite the ham-fisted performances turned in by so many of the actors. The tedium is only occasionally relieved by sweet, affecting scenes between CB, sympathetically played by Jeremy Behrens, and Beethoven, in an understated portrayal by Landen Zumwalt. But that’s mostly the result of Royal’s characterizations: he gives real dimension only to the characters he deems worthy of it.

David Mamet once told an interviewer that theatre is a poor venue for social commentary. He’s wrong, of course, but theatre as instrument for social change is still theatre first. For a truly theatrical exploration of the themes that Dog Sees God handles so clumsily, find a local revival of The Laramie Project or even Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy—or better yet, wait a few months for Corn Stock’s Angels in America.

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