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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heartfelt Yet Controversial: Louisville Rep Stages "Dog Sees God"


Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

By Bert V. Royal
Directed by Natalie Fields

A review by Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.


The Cast of Dog Sees God. Photo courtesy of Louisville Repertory Company.

I am so glad that somebody finally decided to do Dog Sees God in the area. Like so many, I grew up watching the Peanuts holiday specials, read the syndicated comics and often find myself humming “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, the Broadway show inspired by Charles Schulz’s characters. So, needless to say, I looked forward to this rendition of what the front of the program called not “authorized or approved in any manner by the Charles M. Schulz estate.” Regardless if the playwright has licensing over the characters to write the piece or not, there is as much heart and bitter-sweetness in the script as there was in Schulz’s creation.

I don’t think I need to catch you up to speed on these characters. Royal has aged the Peanuts gang by about ten years and morphed them into peer-pressuring teenaged misfits who have moved on from flying kites and dancing at the Christmas party to other more illegal activities.

The entire play is a metaphor for the issues the modern youth may face as they reach adulthood. Considering the youngest members were recent college graduates, casting adults to play teenagers seemed convenient and perhaps coincidental but took away some authenticity from the show’s major elements. As the play drew on, I wondered if the messages in the play would have been stronger if high-school-aged actors played these parts, as they lived these issues. The material covered in this play deals with pre-marital sex, homosexuality, drug use, suicide and bullying, all themes definitely relevant for modern youth.

The performance space provided shortcomings for the production as well. While scenes were confidently performed and executed with timing and passion, The Bard’s Town’s lighting scheme held the production back in countless ways. Scene changes involved actors talking to each other while in character, a method that sometime worked but seemed forced and unnecessary. Other times, lights would dim to signify a scene change and then brighten to show those changes. As this happened, I asked myself if I really needed to see this transition. The answer was no.

Director Natalie Fields attempted to add some artistic expression in the first act. Having Todd Ziegler’s character, CB, stand in the middle of the stage while scenery danced around him was creative, and it was a concept that I would have liked to see more of.

As for the cast, their performances were top notch. As I mentioned before, these actors were a bit mature for their high school-aged parts. Overlooking that, I had fun watching Stephanie Adams as CB’s Sister flutter about the stage in her performance art piece. Brandon Cox as Van gave a subtle performance as a stoner; one of his best scenes involved eating a giant bowl of cereal. Erica McClure and Michael Roberts were hilarious as a couple of drunken teenage mean girls, Patricia and Marcy. And Meg Caudill was simply beautiful and volatile as Van’s sister.

Todd Ziegler, Richard Goff and Mike Mayes provide the plays conflict. Where Charlie Brown, Schroeder and PigPen were once best friends on the baseball diamond, they are now CB, Beethoven and Matt – two bullies, and a lonely musician who just wants to be left alone. As Matt, Mayes provides the strongest performance as an insecure, overcompensating, rough-and-tough bully who detests differences but mostly himself. Goff is sweet, awkward and innocent from the start to finish. With headphones that drown out the world around him, Goff arguably gives the most authentic portrayal. And then there’s Mr. Ziegler as CB, a boy whose dog has just died. He was just as sincere, confused and hopeful as Charlie Brown, whether he was writing a letter to his pen pal, having a heart-to-heart with his sister, or standing up for Beethoven. Ziegler should be proud of his work as the blockhead we have all come to identify with and love.

Louisville Repertory Company has put together a heartfelt production over at The Bard’s Town. Complete with characters we all know and love, controversial themes that will surely bring up conversations on the ride home and a gut-wrenching sincerity, Dog Sees God is definitely a play worth seeing.

 Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

August 16-25

Louisville Repertory Company
The Bard’s Town Theater
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40o205
812-987-7965
Lourep.org

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