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Theater review: 'Dog Sees God...' at the Lyric Hyperion Theater

September 1, 2011 |  1:06 pm

Dog Sees God
Bert V. Royal’s play “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” could be an experiment by militant deconstructionists: Pry Charles M. Schulz’s round-headed “Peanuts” out of childhood and dump them into an "Afterschool Special" about drug-addled teens struggling with death, hormones and sexual identity.

Having spent high school questioning the dramaturgical foundations of TV shows, I was psyched for this postmodern "Peanuts," directed by Daniel Su with the fledgling Linden Bay Collaborative. Schulz’s characters’ quirks have always struck me as philosophical rather than pathological. Then again, what is the deal with Linus and that blanket? Why is Schroeder so absorbed in his piano? Why don’t Pig-Pen’s parents bathe him? Is Lucy a psychopath?

The playwright extracts, and suggests answers to, such questions with a combined playfulness and poignancy that explain why the uneven “Dog Sees God” has been regularly revived since its off-Broadway premiere in 2004. In compliance with those pesky intellectual property laws, names have been changed.

CB (Adam Hale), who wears a yellow T-shirt with a diagonal black lightning bolt, is mourning his dog’s death. (It came as a blow to me too.) Hale has a comparatively long face and more numerous hairs, but his lugubrious demeanor matches his namesake’s. (I just can’t buy, though, that Charlie Brown would ever become a bully, even to help a playwright impose a clunky topical melodrama on a series of existential vignettes.)

Less immediately recognizable, but more persuasive, are pot-smoking Van (Linus, having replaced one crutch with another, played by the adorable Nate Beals); Matt (Nicholas Dostal), a testosterone-addled homophobe who hates his childhood nickname, Pig-Pen; Beethoven (Schroeder, Jeffrey Masters), the resentful victim of both Matt’s bullying and CB’s sexual attraction; and Tricia (Samantha Colicchio) and Marcie (Caitlin Gold), transformed from the sporty Peppermint Patty and her cadet-like minion into a pair of mean party girls. If the production is amateurish (in an oddly lovable way, like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree), the highly credentialed young actors are delightful, and the heavy-handed drama is enlivened by a handful of insights worthy of Schulz himself.

-- Margaret Gray

“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” the Lyric Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 18. $13 and $15. (323) 413-7529 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Van (Nate Beals), left, and CB (Adam Hale) ponder the afterlife in "Dog Sees God." Credit: Daniel Su