A Tale of Good and Grief at the Living Room
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
The Living Room
What makes us what we are? The trappings of childhood impact us early on; who is to say what power they have on our adult selves? And just how much can you get away with in the name of parody? Downtown in the Living Room theater, these questions and more are being explored in "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead", the resemblance of which to a certain much-beloved comic strip is not entirely coincidental.
The story takes place in the remains of a four-color world that has lost its creator. The eternal childhood of Charlie Brown & co. is long, long gone: the old gang are still together, but now are high schoolers, stumbling uncertainly towards adulthood and all that entails. Sex and drugs have found their way into the world, the old brick wall is dingy and timeworn. In the backyard a red doghouse sits empty, its colors fading. And nearby, a simple mound of dirt and a newly planted white cross.
The play follows "C. B." (Bob Linebarger), writing to his anonymous pen pal about the recent events in his life. "I know it's been a few years since I last wrote you. I hope you're still there. I'm not sure you ever were. I never got any letters back from you when I was a kid." He goes on to take us through the recent death of his beloved beagle, the funeral attended only by himself and his Goth (this week) sister (Amanda Burkhart). One by one, the old gang make their appearances: "Van" (Sean Hogge), having had his security blanket taken away and burned, proceeded to smoke the ashes so that "my blanket and I are like one forever," and has since gone on to smoking anything he can get his hands on. "Marcy" and "Tricia" (Regina Weller and Megan Turek) are still two peas in a pod. Former pigpen "Matt" (Kyle Dyck), having cleaned up his outer appearance only to become a bigger pig on the inside, is constantly harassing "Beethoven" (Phillip Russell Newman), who hides away in the music room, playing his beloved piano. It is the interaction between these characters, between themselves and C.B., that forms the heart of the story.
Not much can be said about the plot without spoiling it, so suffice to say that the "sturm und drang" of high school interpersonal relationships comes to the fore in surprising and ultimately shocking ways. These are the young not-quite-adults of the new century: living on the internet, crass, vulgar, worldy wise. When events come to their inevitable climax, this reviewer found herself flashing back all too easily to those days in her own high school career (it should be noted that persons likely to trigger on acts of intense bullying or gay-bashing might want to consider stepping out for those parts, particularly when Matt enters the music room). The teenage years are cruel, Darwinian, but ultimately hopeful. Not everyone makes it, and no one escapes without scars. But somehow we carry on.
Theatre is an ever-changing world, and the Living Room exemplifies this like few others. Reshaping itself around each new performance, it takes full advantage of the flexibility inherent in the smaller venue. This time we found a simple arrangement of tiered seating, a few simple sets intermingled and carefully laid out. The lighting and sound are on the mark, with particular care taken with musical choices before and during the production. The performers are all very strong, and well matched to their roles. Linebarger of course carries most of the weight of the show, but he is ably assisted by this cast. Burkhart in particular has a couple of comic turns that had the audience helpless with laughter. The only real weakness we felt was in the part of Van's Sister (Jessica Franz), who only gets one scene, albeit she joins the rest at the very end. Still, Franz does a memorable job with the part, however brief.
"Dog Sees God" is a product of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival, and like most Fringe productions it is unafraid of pushing barriers. It's an excellent choice for this venue, and a taste of good things to come. On opening night, we had the privilege of talking with a couple of our fellow playgoers, including one who was relatively new to the area and the theatre scene. We discussed the various venues, large and small, and the variety of material put on performance throughout the year. We're glad they were present to see this production, as it is a good example of the kind of independent theatre going on in small venues all over this city. At turns brash, angry, uplifting, enraging, hilarious, profane and ultimately moving, "Dog Sees God" bills itself as an "unauthorized parody", but behind the veil is a genuine love of the source material, and the world it envisioned. With its subject matter, it is definitely not for kids, but for anyone who remembers how it was to be a kid, and remembers the pain of moving into the world of adulthood will not come away unmoved.