February 27, 2015 by Sankha Wanigasekara
From Feb. 12 to Feb. 21, the student-run Drexel Co-Op Theatre Company presented the production “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” at the Black Box Theater situated in the URBN Center Annex. The show, originally envisioned by writer Bert V. Royal, took characters from one of America’s most beloved comic strips, “Peanuts,” and imagined them in a modern high school environment, perhaps portraying one of the most disturbing extrapolations mankind has ever witnessed.
The show strived for an interactive experience from the very beginning. Upon entering the Black Box Theatre, a cast member would hand a patron an envelope containing a handwritten letter. It would ask us to think about a friend currently wading through murky waters, then urge us to write a message of hope and inspiration on the massive brick box stationed within the theater. The patrons naturally obliged. Once this process was finished, cast members, who had been helping the patrons write out messages, would suddenly break into song and dance, urging the patrons to enter the brick box through one of the four entrances at each corner. The brick box, it turned out, contained the stage, creating a miniature theater-in-the-round experience.
Charlie Brown (played by Justin Allison) and his friends are teenagers this time round, and the production begins with the death of Charlie’s beloved pet dog. He organizes a funeral that only his now gothic sister (Georgie Manera) attends, and harbors doubts about the soul of his dead dog. As most people would do, he posits this question to all his friends. The audience soon realizes that this group of friends isn’t even remotely close to its comic strip origins. We are dealt a slew of stereotypes – There’s the high school jock (Joe Canuso), the pothead (Carlos Roa), and a duo of materialistic girls reminiscent of the kind in “Mean Girls,” played indelibly by Alexis Pozonsky and Sophie Hirsch. We have a pyromaniac (Joy Weir), and then there’s the teenager, the grown up Franklin, named Beethoven (played by Aman Milliones-Roman), whom everyone avoids or chooses to make fun of. It’s this last character that spearheads the rest of the parody, introducing themes of homosexuality and bullying.
The audience was in for quite a shock, with an assortment of racial and homophobic slurs being thrown about by the characters, which made everyone wonder if things were being taken a bit too far. But upon further analysis, the script has to be applauded for its sincerity and honesty in presenting high school life, rather than hiding behind a facade of political correctness. It was mildly disturbing, especially since such things were said by people based on cartoon characters, but perhaps that emphasized the insensitive behaviors being portrayed.
The story deals with almost all the possible issues that adolescents are expected to face, ranging from drug use to one’s very own identity, but instead of petrifying the audience with an hour and a half long counseling session, the story took the place of a social satire, accentuated through the use of the aforementioned stereotypes. We are talking about teenage blockheads after all.
The acting was stellar in all aspects. Using a soundtrack that featured some of the most relevant pop culture hits today as well as some vintage piano classics, the stage cues were timed to perfection. The theater’s structure was unforgettable as well. The theatre-in-the round experience also meant that the actors were performing on all possible fronts, acting 360 degrees, rather than in a conventional theater where the actors need only concern themselves with the audience in one direction. The dialogues were delivered in clear and crisp fashion, with the coordination among the characters timed perfectly so that each joke was not lost on the audience.
While the characters from the “Peanuts” comics may have undergone some drastic transformations, the essence of the comics was still intact within the story. Charlie Brown is paradoxically an optimist and a pessimist as seen in his countless appearances in newspapers. This shines through from the get-go, as he struggles to comprehend the fate of his dead dog, and later on when he has to handle the bigoted opinions of his high school friends. The play also discussed the questions that plague most American schools, but the play chose not to hand out the answer to the audience. Instead, the actors mirror the activity that the audience performed prior to the play’s beginning where messages of inspiration were written on the big brick box. It reminds us that we aren’t necessarily alone when it comes to dealing with our problems.