Balagan’s Dog Sees God at ACT Theatre

Dog Sees God
Author: Bert V. Royal
Date attended: 8 October 2011
Venue: Balagan presented in ACT Theatre’s new Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space
Director: Elizabeth Eller

What’s happening in the work thematically?

  • Discovery of self
  • Sexuality
  • Bullying
  • What happens after death
  • Dealing with grief (but, not good grief)

What moments encapsulate the story?

  • CB’s spoken letter to his pen pal opening and closing
  • Pen pal’s response in the finale, though it was a hitting me over the head with a message
  • Tricia letting her real face show by analyzing CB’s and Matt’s relationship
  • Subtle tension between Tricia and Marcie
  • Sally’s performance piece

Why this play now?

At its heart, Dog Sees God is about bullying and uses the Peanuts characters to illustrate terrible acts of violence teenagers perpetrate on one another. In an age in which bullying is still rampant especially in regards to gay teens, it makes sense that this play would be performed now. However, I have several reservations.

To begin, the play is very much a “subject” play. Dog Sees God is about bullying. There’s no other summation for it. I’m not a fan of shows that have such an intense point because they generally require no interpretation and become preachy. The play adds other elements to make up for the subject heavy show, like CB (Charlie Brown) trying to figure out where his dog has gone now that he’s died, and discovering sexuality, or just discovering who they really are. Where the play is less successful in terms of its subject is that it’s too explicit to be performed in high school where the message would be better served, and has too much high school heavy humor to be continually amusing to an adult audience. (I for one am past the point of finding stoner philosophy funny.)

Essentially, I think the playwright went wrong with using the Peanuts characters and I’m not saying that because I have intense feelings for the Peanuts characters. I mean, I watched the Christmas Special and The Great Pumpkin and read the cartoon on Sunday morning, but I’m not bothered by them having meaningless sex, or doing drugs, or getting drunk in the cafeteria, or making out in the music room, or joking about sucking dick, or getting high. No, I don’t care that the Peanuts characters are doing these things. I care that it feels like lazy storytelling from someone guessing what it’s like to be a high school student. I care that the decision to make these things happen to Peanuts characters is the focus. In a lot of ways I feel like I’m supposed to be shocked that Lucy is in an institution for burning the Little Red Haired Girl’s hair, but instead I ask myself why?

There were many other moments that made me question why the Peanuts characters, like Beethoven (Schroeder) having a father who was imprisoned presumably for molesting him. Beethoven is now gay and though it’s not explicitly stated that his father was the cause, the mere fact that they mention the father in terms of committing such an awful crime makes you wonder what the relevance is. Charlie Brown uses it to excuse why the group no longer speaks to Beethoven except to bully him, but that doesn’t feel genuine. It feels like a playwright grasping at straws trying to connect these Peanuts strip characters to a hostile teenage environment. The fact of the matter is that friends grow apart and that perhaps is more tragic than being torn apart by an uncomfortable out-of-nowhere experience.

Another minor playwright annoyance was not giving CB or Van’s sister a name. Schulz’s estate did not sign off on this production when it was written. Hence, Pig Pen has now become Matt, Charlie Brown is CB, Schroeder is Beethoven, Linus is Van, Lucy is Van’s Sister, Sally is CB’s sister, Peppermint Patty is Tricia, and Marcie is still Marcie. The fact of the matter is that I’m really annoyed that two very pivotal characters in the original strip do not have names except in relation to their brothers. This is perhaps a small thing but considering these two characters were not only central to the original comic strip, but also pivotal to the play, they should be given real names.

Aside from that the actors pulled out some amazing poignant moments on stage that could have been lost in the over-dramatized moments. Sally’s (yes, I will call her by name) performance art about the cocoon and waking up as a human instead of a platypus as originally desired was heartbreaking. The tension in the scene with Beethoven and Matt was absolutely fantastic and the classroom reeling after Beethoven’s suicide was also well done, though the suicide element was a little too much for me given all the other crap the characters were doing on stage.

Ultimately, I felt like the playwright did a disservice to the story. Trying to cram battling homosexuality, bullying, drug use, drinking, abortions, pyromania, sex, threesomes, eating disorders, suicide, etc. just felt completely disingenuous to high school. Yes, high schoolers deal with all of these issues, but I think that putting them all in one place, in one group of friends, a group of friend that the audience was familiar with no less, felt a little too much Degrassi to me.

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