Aughh! My Dog Died! Now What?

For the last year or two, I’ve been caught up in the continuing story of the Patterson family over in the community binky_betsy. This story continued the story of the “For Better or For Worseoriginal characters after artist Lynn Johnson stopped new strips and went into reruns. This story had the lead character go delusional and believe she was living in the past, with the rest of the situations devolving around her, until at the end, the mother is shot.

I mention all of this because last night we went to Valley West Actors Space in Woodland Hills, CA to see the 3Monkeys Theatre Co’s production of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”. “Dog Sees God”, by Bert V. Royal, does the same thing to the loved Peanuts characters developed by Charles Schulz. It is approximately 10 years after the times depicted in the strip, and the gang are in the middle years of high school… what happened? [I should note that, to avoid copyright problems, character names were changed slightly]

The story is framed with the conceit of “C.B.” (Charlie Brown) writing a letter to his pen pal, relating what happened shortly after his dog had to be put down after contracting rabies and eating this little yellow bird that had been his friend. That should give you the basic sense of this play. In any case, this incident sends C.B. questioning what happens to pets when they die—the sort of existential angst that only Charlie Brown would ponder while life goes on around him. Through these ponderings, we discover what happened to the rest of the gang: “C.B. sister” (Sally Brown) has continued to constantly change her personality, and is currently goth. “Van” (Linus) has turned into a pothead, and no longer has his blanket (he smoked it). “Tricia York” (Peppermint Patty) has become an alcoholic party girl, and is still connected at the hip with her best friend “Marcy” (Marcie), who is also a party girl and has a crush on C.B. “Matt” (Pig Pen) has become a neat freak, a sex-obsessed bully, and a homophobe and is one of C.B.’s best friends. “Beethoven” (Schroeder) is the outcast of the group and is believed by all to be homosexual (during the play it is revealed he was sexually abuse by his father, so it is unsure whether he actually is gay). “Van’s sister” (Lucy) is in jail for setting the hair of the little red-headed girl on fire. As you can tell by what happened, this is a play filled with strong sexual and drug references and use and extreme adult concepts (although nothing more explicit than a bong). It is also very funny at points.

You can read a detailed synopsis over on Wikipedia. The production touches upon the subjects of drug use, suicide, eating disorders, teen violence and sexual relations, rebellion, and sexual identity. This isn’t your father’s comic strip, folks. To me, it also touched upon the existential, in the way that Schulz’s strips sometimes did. You know how Garfield Minus Garfield unvieled the hidden journey of Jon Arbuckle, losing a battle against loneliness and depression? This play does the same for C.B., who has always been outsider of his gang, the boy who pondered the questions of his universe while the world around him continued their mundane ways. It also brought to my mind, surprisingly, the world of Archie: C.B. corresponded to the lead character; Van to Jughead (who we all know was a pothead); Matt to Reggie; Marcy and Tricia to Betty and Veronica, the party girls. I found it an interesting story.

It was also well acted. I was particularly impressed with Nick Hauser as C.B., who did a good job of capturing the sensitive boy inside the teen. I also enjoyed Kyle Perren as Van and Noelle Barrett as Marcy, and was particularly taken with Jordan Kai Burnett as Van’s sister, who captured the true craziness of Lucy quite well. Others in the cast were Ashley Dulaney (C.B.’s Sister), Abica Dubay (Tricia York), Tom Rathbone (Matt), and Casey Graf (Beethoven). All just came off as their characters extremely well, and were strong actors.

Technically, there’s not much to say. This is a simple black box theatre. The set was minimal but effective. The lighting was a total of 7 parcans, with no obvious lighting booth (I guess it is in the back). There was no obvious sound setup. It worked for this show, but these limitations may affect the range of shows this space can support (then again, if they are as creative as REP East, who knows?). ETA: Since writing this, I have learned that Eric Carl was the Production Manager/Technical Director, and that the entire show was cast, rehearsed, and the technical construction completed in 2½ weeks. That’s a surprise, given the calibur of the acting — I thought they would have been working on it much longer!

The production was directed by Sara Wood.

The production continues at the Valley West Actors Space through the July 4th weekend. Tickets are available through Plays 411.

A note about the company itself: Valley West (older Facebook page, newer Facebook page) is a new theatre company in the Valley; in fact, they opened their doors as a theatre company on Friday. They are in a simple storefront in Woodland Hills just E of Fallbrook where they have built a small (I’d estimate 40 seats or less) black box theatre. In fact, their initial funding effort just ended on Thursday June 17th! It will be interesting to watch this company as they mature. The western end of the San Fernando Valley doesn’t have much theatre: I think there’s one effort out of the Madrid in Canoga Park, and that’s it. The theatre community is currently focused in North Hollywood and Burbank (with an outpost in Newhall). I hope the Valley supports small efforts like this, as well as larger efforts such as the new Performing Arts Center at CSUN. I wish them well.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. This is a busy, busy summer. Tonight is the regularly scheduled June “Meeting of Minds” (Episode #10: Voltaire (Ray Abruzzo); Martin Luther (Mark Moses); Plato; Florence Nightingale [Sharon Lawrence]; with Steve Allen (Gary Cole) hosting). Next Friday, June 25, brings “It’s Top Secret”, a musical that is part of the Festival of New American Musicals, at the NoHo Arts Center; the next night, June 26, brings The Rocky Horror Show” at the Underground Theatre. As for July, the month starts with “In The Heights” at the Pantages on July 3, and the Western Corps Connection in Riverside on July 5. The next weekend (July 10 @ 8pm) is the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie”. The third weekend of July brings ; The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 and the July “Meeting of Minds on July 18. The 4th weekend brings Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 24, and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum on July 25. Plus July will possibly bring some ventures out to the Hollywood Bowl. August starts with “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages on August 1, and (hopefully) “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl (pending ticketing) the following weekend. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, and August 21 “Side Man” at REP East. Looking into September, there is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4, and “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, to be ticketed), plus of course, “Meeting of Minds” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16).

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.