“‘Dog Sees God’ needs more comic buoyancy; “‘Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker’ is nothing but
For legal reasons, the author and producers of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenaged Blockhead” cannot claim the play is based on Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip, but there’s nothing to stop me from saying it. It is. Absolutely. Definitely.
“Dog Sees God” is the theatrical equivalent of fan fiction, assuming the fan had a sick sense of humor. It’s about 10 years after the perpetual pre-adolescent age in which Schulz arrested his characters. They are now teens in a post-9/11 era, with all that accompanies life today.
Playwright Bert V. Royal has taken the psychologically complex “Peanuts” gang and extrapolated where they would be today, and the results are shocking for devotees of the cuddly comic: CB (Charlie Brown) might be gay for Beethoven (Schroeder); Van (Linus) is a pothead; Van’s Sister (Lucy) is in a mental institution for pyromania; Matt (Pigpen) has become a homophobic bully. They all drink too much and talk about sex (which they seem to practice unsafely). Child molestation, abortion and suicide figure into the story.
But the key to “Dog Sees God” that it is a comedy. A dark comedy? The darkest. But when it works best, it’s because it is laugh-out-loud funny for those who can get beyond the taboo of seeing Charlie Brown’s kid sis give head to Linus.
The problem with this production is that director Robert Neblett doesn’t seem to trust its comic chops. Scenes that could speed along with a “Seinfeld”-like rhythm are slowed by morose pacing. It’s as though Neblett allowed himself to forget that it works best as 90-minute comedic play with a sad thread, not a bittersweet 30-minute made-for-TV cartoon. Neblett seems to get it at first the show begins in front of a graffiti-scarred brick wall, conjuring up 1980s standup but slow, very noisy scene changes come when he strikes minor keys. The production needs more buoyancy.
James Chandler as CB seems hamstrung by the overt mawkishness squeezed out of him. Taylor Williams as Matt singlehandedly torpedoes any comic momentum. Williams is a kid (he just graduated high school) but that doesn’t make his performance less uncomfortable to watch.
It’s difficult to overcome the weaknesses owing to a badly done protagonist and antagonist, but “Dog Sees God” has something to recommend it. Royal’s script contains many great ideas about Romanticism, about what leads teenagers to engage in Columbine-like behavior and some of the actors are quite good. Drew Wall (Van), Chelsie Ashton (CB’s Sister) and Lindsay Neisast (Van’s Sister) are each charismatic and incredibly effective, and Stephanie Stuart and Natalie Young as the shallow “Mean Girls” that Peppermint Patty and Marcie became are full of the energy of awfulness. The portrayal of familiar characters in such unexpected ways might be enough to get you to the Bath House.
It will probably take more spiked eggnog than is available in North Texas before I or any audience member will forget the image of Mark-Brian Sonna, clad in crotch-clinging lavender Capezios, hurtling toward us like a big gay asteroid to the strains of “The Nutcracker” suite.
But don’t think that escapes Sonna: He’s aiming for something indelibly comic, and he doesn’t seem to allow ego to stand in his way. If everyone at the Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison laughs at his expense, at least they are laughing.
The second half of Sonna’s original play, “The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker!,” is as ridiculously fun as its title suggests. A raunchy blasphemy of dance set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Christmastime masterpiece, it features surprisingly good ballet dancing staged in grossly inappropriate ways. Sonna, who danced professionally in his younger days, may have lost some of the leanness of his physique but that only serves to astonish the audience even more when he twinkles his toes while executing excellent entrechats and grandes jetes.
The silly titters enjoyed in Act 2 almost justify the clunkier moments of awkward exposition that plague Act 1. The premise is simple: The Jesus-loving, book-burning Baptists of Beulaville are in desperate need of a fundraiser and accidentally hire burlesque dancers to perform “The Nutcracker” for them.
It takes the better part of 40 minutes to posit that, during which we begin to suspect that Dickie (Sonna) is not only dumb but possibly gay, and that his nemesis in the club, Sylvia (Sherri Small Truitt, channeling Dixie Carter from “Designing Women”) has something to hide. We also get lots of bawdy dialogue, such as a recounting of a lesbian porn film than one character finds so gross “I couldn’t lick a stamp for days.”
But if the jokes are hit-and-miss, it is always fun to watch bible-thumpers drop a few F-bombs, and by the time the sugar plum fairies begin their hoochie-koochie, you’ve almost totally forgotten the parts you didn’t like. This is a “Nutcracker” for anyone who always wanted to chuckle during the ballet but didn’t feel they could. Here, it’s encouraged.
“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenaged Blockhead,” Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Dec. 22. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. $15. 972-215-8059.
“The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents A Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker!,” Stone Cottage Theatre, Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Through Dec. 22. Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., select weekend matinees. $16-$21. 214-477-4942. Burlesquenutcracker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 14, 2007