Monday, February 22, 2016

Good grief! A grim look at Peanuts in Dog Sees God

On the surface, Bart. V Royal’s play Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, is a cautionary tale about the tragedy that may come out of bullying and bigotry among teens. But for someone who grew up with Charles Schulz' Peanuts comic strips, there was a whole other layer of experience as I got to see what could have been had Charlie Brown and company's road to adolescence was laced with an unhealthy dose of drugs, sex and alcohol.

A shock came over me at first when I saw how demented, warped and twisted the characters have become in this "unauthorized parody" compared to their comic strip origins. For starters, the beagle was put to sleep after it had gone rabid and violently devoured his yellow bird best friend prior to the events of the play. With the dog that became the merchandising giant out of the way, the focus went solely to the human characters and how grim things have turned out for them. Good grief indeed.

CB (portrayed by Nel Gomez) has basically remained unchanged for he is still an insecure blockhead who is still questioning the meaning of life. CB’s sister (Faye Camille Velicaria), on the other hand, has hopped from one religion/identity to another, thus just continuing her ever changing philosophies in the strips. Tricia (Kathleen Francisco) and Marcy (Maronne Cruz), the tomboy and her bland sidekick in the strips, have now become the promiscuous mean girls who often made fun of the always mentioned but never seen girl with the Naturally Curly Hair.

The philosophizing Van (Gab Medina) has gotten rid of his security blanket and has turned into drugs instead. His crabby sister (Sarah Facuri), who dispensed 5¢ advises from her psychiatric booth found herself on the other side of the fence inside a mental facility after setting the Little Red Haired Girl’s hair on fire. And her former object of affection, the piano prodigy Beethoven (Vince Lim), has become a recluse after being shunned by everyone since news of his sexual abuse by his father surfaced. Probably the biggest change among the gang happened to Matt (Brian Sy) who has literally cleaned up the filth surrounding him but has developed an even dirtier mind. The one trick visual gag from the strips has been fleshed out as the main antagonist whose bigotry would propel the tragedy of the second act.

But once I got over the initial shock, it was hard for me to wrap around with the storyline about CB lamenting to his unseen Pen Pal the loss of his dog and then trying to find among his friends whatever happens to dogs after dying. Instead of finding the answer to his question, he finds romance instead in the most unlikely of places. What I found unlikely was how the rest of the gang reacted when they learned about CB’s blossoming love affair. With drugs, alcohol and sex prevalent among these hormonally charged teens, their utter disbelief and unacceptance of CB’s partner was really unbecoming of them. It was only Van’s Sister, supposed to be the insane one, who took the news of CB’s lover in stride.

I guess that the way I reacted to the material and its major turning point only reflected on how far removed I am from my teenage years. And very likely reaffirmed how attached I am to the essence of the Peanuts characters.

In such an intimate venue and the most minimal of sets, the actors’ performances came out to the fore. Nel was a loveable CB who one can’t help but cheer for as he goes on in his journey. The rest of the wayward gang’s quirks were amped to the max that the adult in me felt uncomfortable to be in their midst. And my proximity to the action made me feel as if I was engaged in voyeurism instead of being among the audience watching a play. I guess it shows that it’s not easy for me to hear other people’s confessions.

RIght after the press preview, I remembered that it had been almost 16 years since Charles Schulz passed away. And this was probably around the same age as the CB and the gang in the play are. Seeing the Peanuts gang in their darkest light, it just made me want to reread my collection of strips right from the beginning.

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, directed by Steven Conde, is the initial offering of Twin Bill Theater founded by twin brothers Joseph and Francis Mathieu. This production, part of the Fringe Manila festival, will have a final performance on February 26, 2016 at Staple & Perk at the Eco Plaza Building in Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati.

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