18 January 2012

It's a Troubled Adolescence, Charlie Brown

I heard of this play probably three years ago, and got it from the library right away. In cleaning out my study in October, I found it, so I decided to finally read it...

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead
by Bert V. Royal

This play is an unauthorized take on Peanuts.  The names aren't quite right, but it's obvious enough, and the dialogue minimizes the use of the weird names so that you can pretty much keep the "real" characters in mind.  They're all in high school now, and it's pretty rough.  Snoopy went rabid and killed Woodstock, and had to be put down.  Charlie Brown throws a funeral but no one comes.  Sally is a goth, but last week she was a hippie, and next week she'll be something else.  Pig Pen is a neat freak who bullies the other boys and molests the women.  Schroeder is eternally harassed and no longer friends with the gang.  Not that there's a lot of friendship to go around.  Marcie and Peppermint Patty are gossiping floozies.  Lucy is in prison!

Some of it's funny.  It's dark humor mostly, but I like the jokes about Snoopy's funeral and Lucy's prison sentence.  It's kinda fun to see how these character would turn out older.  I know there are tons of imaginings of how Calvin and Hobbes end up later on out there on the Internet, and I suspect the same probably exists for Peanuts, though I'm not familiar with it myself.  The problem with Dog Sees God is that it goes too far, sometimes; some of the things Charlie Brown does here make him unrecognizable.  He and Pig Pen supposedly physically bully Schroeder, and I just don't buy it; ditto the way Linus, Marcie, and Peppermint Patty are portrayed.  The two girls, especially, seem to do shocking things for the sake of shock.

Charlie Brown visits Lucy in prison.
If the story is meant to uproot our Peanuts preconceptions with an explosion of darkness, then that would be fine, but there are obviously points where it wants to be touching, too.  But to be touching means it needs my preexisting affection for the characters from reading Peanuts all those years, because there's nothing here to generate affection for these characters.  But if that's so, then Charlie Brown has to actually be close enough to the Charlie Brown that I remember.  Dog Sees God tries to be both shocking and touching, and I don't think it manages that mix right; the "shocking" stuff stops my affection for these characters from fully engaging, and thus I don't buy the "touching" moments.  If there even is a way to manage that mix right.

That said, some of those touching moments really do work.  In a good stage production, that last scene could especially hit really hard.  Dog Sees God remains an interesting experiment, but ultimately a flawed one.

(I was surprised to discover from Wikipedia that Bert V. Royal went on to be the screenwriter of the acclaimed 2010 teen film Easy A.  Also, there was apparently a production of Dogs Sees God with Eliza Dushku as Lucy!)

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