Monday, March 30, 2009

Peanuts Awakening - Dog Sees God - Play Review

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead - Six Degrees - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5)
Written by Bert V. Royal, Directed by Lezlie Wade
Runs until April 4th 2009 UPDATE: It has been extended until April 18th

The peanuts gang have grown up and become all surly, angsty and all. After all, they are now teenagers in this modern unauthorized update of Charlie Brown and gang, and it all starts off when C.B.'s dog dies (put down actually for getting rabies and eating his best friend bird... get it?). Without giving too much away, the play then delves into an assortment of issues, from cliques, to homosexuality, to suicide and just general teenage rebellion. Fun stuff you know? But because of a thinly veiled allusion to Charles Schultz cartoon creations, there's an amusing twist to the whole affair as we sort of fill in the gaps with nostalgia from the famed comic strip.

While the play certainly has its problems, and partially counts on the (literally) cartoon caricatures to sketch out these now fully dimensional characters, it certainly attempts to deal with a lot of heavy issues while keeping the humour in balance, and partially succeeds.

Thanks to director Lezlie Wade, the Toronto premiere of the play manages to overcome the deficiencies with a strong cast and some ingenious (yet simple) direction. With a simple but clever set on the small stage at Six Degrees (part lounge/nightclub, and I believe former Yuk Yuk's), Wade manages to make the most of a small performance space. She adds little directorial touches that aren't scripted, but adds layers to the play.

Half the cast is probably most recognized from the Canadian television series Degrassi: The Next Generation and they do a fine job. Jake Epstein does a comparable job as central figure C.B. (though I was never a fan of his Craig on D:TNG). Adamo Ruggiero does a splendid job excising any trace of his gay Marco and tokes it up here as the consistently high Van (as in, Linus van Pelt), now sans blanky because the rest of the gang forced him to burn it up (which he then smoked up).

Mike Lobel doesn't stray too far from his Jay on D:TNG, but while there were still moments of first night stage frights (I saw this on the 1st day of previews), Lobel does a great job with his Matt (a now grown up Pig Pen). Like Adamo, there's a surprising stage presence that I didn't anticipate and easily holds the spotlight.

Meanwhile, it's too bad Paula Brancati (Jane on Degrassi: TNG) has a small role as Van's Sister (aka Sally), because Brancati takes her small bit and milks every moment. She's simply marvelous and only left me wanting MUCH MUCH more from the young actress.

While the above four may have had the most fame previous to the play, the other actors in the ensemble hold their own.

Ben Lewis probably handles the delicate and most poignant character Beethoven (a grown up Schroeder) best, with a stirring performance that really grounds the whole show. It's probably the most well-written character already but Lewis' performance is strong.

Alex Saslove is terrifically funny as Marcy (Marcie) but the overall ensemble's comedic timing still needed a bit of work but again, understandable on 1st night, and I'm assuming it'll get better through the run.

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