Thought Provoking “Dog Sees God” Opens at the Santa Monica Playhouse

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Reviewed by Peter Foldy

High school angst.   We’ve all experienced it.  Those years when all we want to do is fit in and be accepted.  Whether you go through high school by flying below the radar or above it, that rite of passage will surely influence how you see yourself, and maybe even determine where you’re headed in life.  In high school what people think of you matters and the Santa Monica Playhouse’s production of Bert V Royal’s “DOG SEES GOD: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” attempts to show us just how much.

An homage to Charles M. Schulz’s beloved comic strip, “Peanuts,” “Dog Sees God” introduces us to Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the old gang, now re-imagined as high school kids.  Bawdy, pot smoking, promiscuous, foul mouthed drug taking high school kids, this is not your father’s “Peanuts.”  Far from it.

The cast of "Dog Sees God" at the Santa Monica Playhouse
The cast of “Dog Sees God” at the Santa Monica Playhouse

The story here concerns, Charlie Brown, (now called CB), a confused teenager with an occasional mean streak who starts out by asking esoteric questions about life and death and soon decides to put his popularity at risk by coming to the defense of “Beethoven,” (think Schroeder) a young man presumed to be gay after his father is arrested for molesting him.  Beethoven and CB used to be best pals but CB has stood by for way too long and watched as the homophobic “Pigpen” and his friends physically abuse the young musician.

Beethoven is actually not sure which side of the fence he falls, straight or gay, but an unexpected and violent confrontation with CB suddenly turns sexual and Beethoven goes along for the ride.

Troy Doherty (l.), Johnny James Fiore
Troy Doherty (l.), Johnny James Fiore

The next day he is more confused than ever but the encounter has suddenly made things clearer for CB, and he has no regrets.

As word of the tryst spreads like wildfire throughout the high school, everyone chips in with thoughts and opinions.  Some see it as an excuse to get stoned and promiscuous, while others see it as a motive for humiliation and revenge.

As the situation unravels and the play reaches a deadly conclusion, “Dog Sees God” points fingers at everyone.  Not just the culprits behind the foreseeable violence but those who stand by and do nothing to stop it.  It is an appropriate and timely message in this age of bullying, cyber and otherwise, when teenage suicide is on the rise, especially among gay kids with no one to turn to.

Bert Royal’s tale makes one realize that the old adage, “it will get better” is not always the case.  Sometimes it doesn’t, and while “Dog Sees God” raises valid questions, real, off-stage answers are probably harder to find.

Johnny James Fiore (l.), Natasha Capp
Johnny James Fiore (l.), Natasha Capp

While Royal’s writing is strong, his dialogue sharp, this production suffers from several below par, over the top performances.   Maria Capps’ direction tries to hold the piece together but a lack of sets and production design doesn’t exactly help her cause.  Frankly, if it wasn’t for the spicy language and pertinent subject matter, this staging of “Dog Sees God” at times come across as a high school production.

Despite that the show does have it’s shining stars.

Johnny Fiore is solid and likeable as “CB.”  He reaches deep as he tries to navigates the troubled waters his character has fallen into.   Fiore is clearly a strong presence here.

Troy Doherty shows us a sympathetic and likeable “Beethoven.”  The character’s angst is played with maturity and Doherty is the voice of reason in “Dog Sees God.”  A talented piano play, (and a musician with a new EP just released) Doherty helps to ground this story.

Lindsey Beckwith (l.), Ashley Stauffer.
Lindsey Beckwith (l.), Ashley Stauffer.

Other standouts include David Michael as a the homophobic Pigpen, a young man with clearly something to hide.  Lindsey Beckwith as “Marcy” and Ashley Stauffer as “Tricia” portray ditzy high school airheads as if they’ve been there and done that.

The audience, myself included, also enjoyed the relaxed and humorous approach of David Wunderlich as “Van,” the young stoner who’ll smoke anything that might get him high.  Though not given a lot to do here, Wunderlich was a breath of fresh air whenever he appeared on stage, a confident twinkle in his eyes.

“Dog Sees God” is a thought provoking and well intentioned production that still holds relevance–perhaps even more so then when it was first performed in 2004.

Now Playing:
Sunday Dec 7th at 2:30 & 7:30pm
Friday Dec 12th at 2pm
Saturday Dec 13th at 1pm
Friday Dec 19, Saturday Dec 20 and Sunday Dec 21 at 2 & 7:30pm

Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401

General Admission $20

Students with promo code 007 $15

Reserve ONLINE at: https://www.plays411.com/dogseesgod14