Nancy Sasso Janis
- OnStage Connecticut Critic/Connecticut Critics Circle
You know they say a dog sees God in his master. A cat looks in the mirror. - ‘Dog Sees God’
Trumbull, CT - ‘Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead’ is a play first presented at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival and then went on to Off-Broadway. The playwright is Bert V. Royal. As the word “blockhead” suggests, the unauthorized parody involves the characters from the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, but comes with a stern disclaimer that the piece “has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Charles M. Schulz Estate or United Features Syndicate, which have no responsibility for its content.”
Five minutes in the audience can see why this is the case. The beloved young peanuts have grown to become truly degenerate teenagers. The play addresses drug use, suicide, eating disorders, sexual identity, child sexual abuse, homophobia, bullying, and teen violence, all in ninety minutes. The show slyly disguises the identity of each of the classic characters, perhaps to draw more focus to the myriad of issues rather than trying to guess who is who. While parts of the dialogue are bitingly funny, the emotional effect of the piece comes from the harsh look at the self-discovery of the teenage years.
‘Dog Sees God’ (don’t miss the palindrome) is the last of the three plays that Vagabond Theatre Company salvaged for their inaugural season from the season originally intended for their old home. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was produced in October of last year and I reviewed ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot’ in March. All three plays struck a chord with Artistic Directors John R. Smith Jnr and Tanya Feduik-Smith because they take a stark and honest look at some important topics as they continue their mission of “a non-profit theatre dedicated to promoting new works and encouraging new talent while providing an alternative theatre choice to the people of the Greater Bridgeport area.”
So this play is certainly not for children (“THIS IS NOT A CHILD-APPROPRIATE PERFORMANCE” is noted on Facebook) and probably not for everyone because of very strong language, skimpy costumes and the aforementioned issues it examines. However, it is cleverly constructed and under the direction of Michael R. Mele, the cast made us laugh and ultimately tear up during the one and half hour play presented without intermission. The director and the two artistic directors are credited with the production design.
The only member of the cast I had ever seen onstage was Karl Hinger, when he played Cornelius in Musicals at Richter’s ‘Hello, Dolly,’ This WCSU student makes his VTC debut in the role of Beethoven the pianist and used every bit of his impressive acting ability to bring the bullied character to life.
Ian C. Smith, who graduated from Housatonic Community College the day before opening night, played the role of Van, a stoner who smoked the remnants of his iconic blanket. April Lichtman also makes her VTC debut as his sister, but she has also played the role of Tricia in a production at One Shot Theatre Co. Her take on the bossy girls who has been institutionalized for setting the Little Red-Haired Girl’s hair on fire was quite amazing and I left wishing she had been given more to do.
Hannah Pearsall makes her VTC debut in the role of the bespectacled Marcy, who slipped only once and addressed her party girl gal pal Tricia York (...Peppermint Patty) as “sir.” Vicki Pelletier branched out to play this girl who grew up to dress as a 90’s pop icon; she played Van’s Sister for 7 Ronin Productions in Baltimore. Both young women nailed teenaged girl-speak.
Ryan Shea did so well in the role of the blockhead CB that we didn’t need the black zigzags on his costume to know who he was. The character arc of this “good man,” who begins the play by burying his beloved dog, was the driving force of this show. Anna Lynch (VTC debut) did very well with the role of upgrown Sally (billed as CB’s sister); she has gone Goth, at least for this week. Joe Zumbo, a 2014 graduate of Dean College’s School for the Arts, marks his fifth time performing as Matt in ‘Dog Sees God’ and of course did very well with the character who has internalized his dirtiness and become a pathological germaphobe. The character of Freida is never seen, but suffers from an eating disorder.
Don’t miss the cover of the program that features the cast marked with a one-word label on their forehead. ‘‘Dog Sees God’ runs weekends, May 26 - June 4, 2017 Fri and Sat @ 8 pm Sun @ 5 pm, The Warehouse Blackbox is at Performing Arts Center Of Connecticut, 18 Lindeman Dr Trumbull, CT 06611 General Admission - $20, Students/Seniors - $15, Pre-Order Online and save $5 Group Discount Rates Available.
Pictured: Ian C. Smith as Van and Ryan Shea as CB in 'Dog Sees God' Photo courtesy of Vagabond Theatre Company
Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to local Patch.com sites. Follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417 and check out her Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer.