If there is anything wrong with
Burt V. Royal’s play, Dog Sees God:
Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead currently playing at the Spotlighters
Theatre, it is that not enough people will catch this important work. An “unauthorized parody” of Charles Schultz’ Peanuts comic strip whereby the Peanuts characters have grown into
adolescence, Dog Sees God, which
earned a GLAAD media award for Best Off-Off-Broadway Play in 1984, takes on
serious issues that adolescents continue to grapple with today. Mr. Royal’s characters’ names are different
from the Peanuts crowd because of
intellectual property rights.
Reed DeLisle as Beethoven, Sean Dynan as CB, and Dennis Binseel as Matt
Photo: Chris Aldridge
The play poignantly focuses on
teen bullying, but suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, and
sexual identity among others also factor in.
With these many issues to contend with in a one-act play lasting just
over an hour and a half, time could not be spent on all to delve deeply enough
to do them justice. Nonetheless, they
are touched on to some extent, and bullying and suicide emerge as the central
Under Director Fuzz Roark, the
talented cast of young actors brings Mr. Royal’s work to life with intensity,
power and energy. The play is constructed
with over 20 scenes that are well-staged and well-paced. The cast implements smooth transitions with
the use of Al Ramer’s effective lighting design, and background music is piped
in during these moments. Many of these
scenes are highly dramatic and pivotal to the plot; they are executed well.
The actors make effective use of
the square stage in the center of the in-the-round theater using moveable benches
and tables as props in Alan Zemia’s simple but functional set. In addition, a piano, which plays a
significant part in the play’s drama, sits in the corner along the runway.
Sean Dynan, as the principal
character CB (Charlie Brown), turns in a splendid acting performance. Handsome but conveying uncertain
teenage-awkwardness at the same time, he moves about the stage with the weight
of the world seemingly on his shoulders.
CB’s dog had died, and CB was looking to find out if there was an
afterlife. His friends consist of a
pothead (Van, played by Adam Michael Abruzzo); two boozers who think they are
the cool kids (Marcy and Tricia played convincingly by April Airriona Jones and
Melanie Glickman, respectively); a sex-obsessed homophobe Matt (Dennis Binseel);
and CB’s sister who has varying
philosophies on life (forcefully acted by Parker Bailey Steven), provide no
a must-see thought-provoking and entertaining event
CB had at one time physically
hurt Beethoven, the school’s outcast because he is gay, and during his attempt
at reconciliation kisses him, then falls for him. Beethoven (Schroeder in Peanuts) incurs the hateful wrath of Matt whose homophobia is so
extreme that it ultimately and predictably raises questions as to why.
Beethoven is played touchingly by
Reed DeLisle. He finds solace from the
bullying and harassment by playing classical music on the piano. His cowering movements around the stage and
his restrained dialogue are a function of his constant fear and anger. Mr. DeLisle delivers a moving performance in
Hunky Dennis Binseel as Matt
(Pig-Pen in Peanuts) is the play’s
main antagonist. His persona is similar
to a ball of rubber bands tightly wound up whereby the slightest provocation
sets him off. Matt is menacing (and
violent). Mr. Binseel carries this off superbly
with powerful intensity.
Rounding out the cast is Autumn
Rocha, Van’s sister, who is institutionalized for setting a red-haired girl’s
hair on fire. The scene between her and
CB is outstanding.
The remainder of plot will not
be divulged because the highly dramatic ending but is climaxed by an emotional
letter to CB from a pen-pal.
To his credit, Fuzz Roark, as
the Spotlighters Theatre’s Executive Director, added an insert to the program
containing important information concerning bullying and suicide that had been
furnished by PFLAG-Carroll County and The Trevor Project. These pages include the warning signs that
people should notice, actions that can be taken, statistics, hotline numbers
and other useful information. In
addition, the lobby of the theatre displays a range of brochures covering the
issues that surfaced in the play.
Also, the brief after-play
discussion by cast members with the audience caps off the experience very fittingly. Following the performance for this review,
Melanie Glickman ably led the discussion.
Dog Sees God is
mostly a serious play with a few chuckles sprinkled about. Mr. Royal’s script captures teenage angst and
the serious problems that adolescents face at school each day. It scrupulously informs the audience as to
the consequences of bad decisions or the lack of guidance from others.
Those critical issues covered by
the play are reasons enough to attend.
However, it is a well-directed and well-staged work that is performed by
a talented cast and makes it a must-see thought-provoking and entertaining
Running time: Approximately one
hour and 40 minutes with no intermission
Advisory: The play contains
profanity and sexual situations and is not suitable for children under 13.
Dog Sees God runs
through June 28 at the Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD
21202. Tickets may be purchased by
calling the box office at 410-752-1225 or visiting online.