Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
Nov. 13, 14, and 15, 9 p.m.
Footlight Players Theatre
20 Queen St.
Let’s not call it a Charlie Brown parody.
When it premiered in 2004, Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God weathered an early legal flap over two lines of Peanuts®-infringing dialogue, but it hasn’t had to look over its shoulder (legally speaking) since.
On the other hand, South Park and Judd Apatow’s movies may have earned at least a little love here since this play owes so much to their sophomoric, raunchy aesthetic. (Which is to say, it’s funny.)
But then, as Samuel Beckett once wrote, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” And Beckett’s estate might also be due a shout out from Dog. (Which is to say, it’s not just funny, but weirdly bipolar.)
It begins with CB (Mike Ferrer) agonizing to his long-lost Pen Pal that his faithful dog had to be put down after going rabid and lunching on the Little Yellow Bird. The loss hits him hard.
“Where is God?” CB asks.
It’s a noble impulse, this existential quest, but one that collapses the moment CB steps outside himself and into his frantic little world. Starting with the dog’s funeral.
Since none of CB’s friends bothered to show up, CB and his Sister (Katie Holland) try to improvise a memorial service, which instantly smacks head-on into their sibling rivalry. The play shifts gears into comic relief.
Throughout, Dog Sees God sprints most confidently in its Superbad mode. Foul-mouthed, trashy frat humor is home turf.
But wherever the play turns off its funny, and reaches for a loftier perch, is exactly where it begins to feel like a mish-mash that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. It’s a developmental stretch most of the cast seem to struggle with, too. Pace and credibility largely fall off a cliff when Dog wanders into Samuel Beckett-ville.
The surprise heart and soul of the show is Katie Holland, CB’s Sister, who remains compelling and believable across the board. Hilariously brash and over-the-top when called for, yet gliding through the stilted diction of more serious bits without once sounding like the playwright crammed marbles in her mouth. Holland shines.
Dog totes along a sackful of provocative, revels in the wrecking ball it swings at our memories of the comic-strip crew. These teenagers party, drink at school, smoke dope, horizontally mambo, survive incestual rape, even set fire to one another, and go to prison.
Justin Avery as Beethoven turns in a nuanced performance in his role as the gang’s whipping boy. Tricia (Betty Ann Bishop) and Marcy (Alanna Mensing) investigating the invention and significance of the spork at their cafeteria lunch table prove that slutty and catty rock. Stephen Ryan Linn is suspiciously convincing as Van, the doper/philosopher. Matt (John Williams), the homophobe, rankles in all the righteous places. Van’s Sister (Jamie George) once the dispenser of nickel-a-session analysis, can’t quite bring herself to renouncing pyromania. CB’s prison visit heart-to-heart with her is one of the most mature (and comic) scenes.
And we loved the party scene with the cast in silhouette dancing up a storm to the instantly nostalgia-inducing “Linus & Lucy.” It was one moment in Dog that felt like the play stopped eye-poking and humbly doffed its hat to its cartoon inspiration.