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Monday, June 08, 2015

Bullying Not Peanuts at Spotlighters

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.

From left: 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 topics.
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 good answers. 

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 this role.
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 event.    
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.

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