CB, a somber young man, stands behind a white wooden cross in a downstage spotlight. He narrates a letter to a pen pal who has been unresponsive to previous letters. The cross, CB explains, marks the grave of his dog, a beagle, who became rabid and had to be euthanized. CB goes on to describe a gruesome scene of blood and yellow feathers that led to the dog's demise. Now, CB wonders, "What happens after we die?" He spends much of the play asking other characters "the question."
The stage is set for "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," 8-10 p.m. today through Sunday in Gundlach Theatre in Heidelberg University's Founders Hall. Without the subtitle, "Dog Sees God" is a palindrome (it reads the same forward and backward), and it suggests people may not change very much from the past to the present. Perhaps the playwright, Bert V. Royal, should have ended the title with a question mark, since questions are the focus of the play.
As the characters appear in succession, they also raise questions for the audience. The figures seem familiar yet strangely different. Before long, viewers realize the characters are modeled after those from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Shultz. Aaron Stewart as CB is the grown-up version of "that round-headed kid" but with a full head of hair. The two-dimensional cartoon gang has morphed into teenagers, and their endearing childhood traits have evolved into serious issues, overshadowing the simple joys of childhood.
PHOTOS BY PAT GAIETTO
Aaron Stewart as CB (left) and Ryan Ladina as Beethoven share a tense moment as they ponder how two best friends could have drifted apart.
This is clearly an adult show. The vignette format has been adapted to address realistic themes of bullying, sexuality, substance abuse, mortality, relationships and coming of age. The offensive language, satire and mature content are not suitable for children.
CB's younger sister (Sally) is arrayed in Gothic attire and writes existential performance poetry. Leigh Barthel makes the most of this drama-queen persona. Van and Matt, played by Greg Adams and Adam Hoover, are the grown-up versions of Linus and Pig-Pen. Van has become a pothead (who smokes fibers from his infamous blanket) and Matt is a jock with a phobia of germs. Each has a different response to "the question." Van talks about reincarnation and Matt says the dead return to a womb-like place, much like before birth.
Peppermint Patti and Marcie are now popular party girls named Tricia and Marcy. In those roles, Dakota Thorn and Amanda Chaney gossip over their cafeteria lunches and slip vodka into their Gatorade. Then there is Beethoven, formerly known as Schroeder, and played by Ryan Ladina. Still preoccupied with his piano, he is teased and bullied every day in the high school halls. Matt has developed a menacing dislike for Beethoven.
A pivotal scene takes place when CB interrupts Beethoven's practice session. As CB narrates the death of his dog, Beethoven tells CB to get lost. The musician is tired of being harassed while people who are supposed to be friends observe but do nothing to help out. CB promises to defend Beethoven in the future and they shake on it. To answer "the question," Beethoven quotes Scripture that suggests animals will be present in the afterlife. The friends play a duet of "Heart and Soul." CB kisses his friend and dashes out of the room.
For comic relief, CB's sister performs solo a metamorphosis routine which ends with "I will be an extraordinary creature." The scene also provides contrast to the rowdy party that follows at Marcy's house. Matt threatens Beethoven and is surprised when CB stands up for him. Jaws drop when CB and Beethoven kiss in front of everyone.
Lucy finally makes an appearance in the persona of Van's sister. CB visits her in a jail cell with her "doctor is in" sign posted. She is enjoying her drugs and receiving therapy instead of giving advice to others. Her crime? Setting fire to the hair of the "little red-headed girl" in a fit of jealousy. She'll be locked up until she can admit "fire is bad." CB tells her everything about his dog, the party and kissing Beethoven. Although he is confused, Lucy commends CB for being unpredictable - for once.
It turns out the other characters also are confused about CB's relationship with Beethoven, but they don't want to talk about it. Matt is especially upset, and he chooses to use violence to put things back the way he thinks they should be. The tragic results disturb all the characters and lead to more questions. A glimmer of hope occurs when CB gets an encouraging reply from the silent pen pal, who suggests a deceased loved one is caring for his dog.
The play is being directed by Jacqueline Scheufler, a senior majoring in English and communication and theater arts.
This Peanuts parody has no intermission. Only a few set pieces are used for each scene, so the action moves swiftly with music to fill in the gaps. Admission is free, but donations are to be accepted for the "It Gets Better" project.