Laughs tumble from 'Peanuts' parody

Thursday, November 8, 2007
The Arizona Republic /

Between the page and the stage lies a long road.

It is not my habit to read the script before I review a play, and watching Stray Cat Theatre perform the "wildly unauthorized" Peanuts parody Dog Sees God was another reminder why.

Subtitled Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, Bert V. Royal's satire appropriates Charlie Brown and his comic-strip pals for a riff on teen angst in the 21st century, complete with sex, drugs and homophobia. Reading it, I thought there were some amusing moments, but I also saw a dark portrait of adolescence that could have stood on its own without its purloined pop-culture provenance.

Brought to life by a talented cast and a passionate director, the words on paper become something else.

First of all, this thing is funny. The scene-ending punch lines had the audience near hysterics. And the fact that it was Linus talking Buddhist philosophy over a joint, or Sally Brown doing a one-woman show about a caterpillar dreaming of becoming a platypus, had everything to do with why the comedy worked. Seeing how the familiar characters are projected forward in time, with both exaggerations and unexpected reversals, is what sets Dog Sees God apart from any number of adolescent dramedies.

In Royal's update on Charles M. Schulz's characters, Charlie Brown has become a popular kid in high school, but when his dog gets rabies and chews up the "little yellow bird that was always hanging around," "CB" goes into an existential meltdown that spills over onto his friends, including the outcast "Beethoven" a sensitive, presumably gay pianist. Along the way there are plenty of illicit high jinks of the kind you might see in Superbad, although things take a turn for the serious in the end.

The cast is just about as good as you could ask for, particularly Eric Zaklukiewicz, who brings a wry vulnerability to the role of CB that sets the tone for the entire production. Emily Pelzer and Jannese Davidson earn more than their share of laughs as "Tricia" and "Marcy," a pair of vodka-guzzling party girls who put a new spin on the old rumors about Peppermint Patty and the girl who called her "Sir."

Departing somewhat from the original production in New York, director Marcos D. Voss plays up the comic-strip connection, from the three-panel set to a moment of unscripted comedy involving the Peanuts gang's peculiar dance style. Such touches add some extra juice to the comedy, although they might go a bit far in the final scene, which probably would work better without any zaniness.

Still, that's a minor complaint about a show that is both uproarious and provocative.

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead