As I watched the Long Beach Playhouse’s official opening performance Saturday evening, I kept thinking that an edited version (for maturity purposes) would be a wonderful play to perform for high schools. It is an enthralling look into “average” teenagers questioning their identity while dealing with immaturity, based on some beloved American comic strip characters.
Meet the famed Peanuts cartoon characters crew as teenagers, including C.B., (Charlie Brown,) his sister, and other moderated versions of his buddies. It begins just after C.B.’s beloved dog (not mentioned in the play, but known as “Snoopy”) dies, and C.B. is, of course, despondent.
There are plenty more character similarities and references to the comic strip and the set design is simplistic with primary colors lighting, in typical Charles Schulz’s fashion.
However, that is where simple ends and drama begins. These high school characters are dealing with dramatic days, far worse then you could imagine Charlie Brown and crew living. All the characters are depressed, sexually or socially confused, abused, or all four, and these "childhood buddies" now have some messed up friendships.
It’s upsetting yes, but so is reality and plays like this, wonderfully produced and performed, are stories that affect people’s attitudes afterward watching.
Sean F. Gray made his directorial debut at the Long Beach Playhouse with “Dog Sees God,” and through a connection, he also got to converse with its writer, Bert V. Royal, and was given a modernized version of the original 2008 story, that includes homosexual bullying and permuscuity.
He had about 90 people audition for the roles, but composed a wonderful cast of characters that matched well with the visual I get, when imaging the Peanuts characters grown into modern teens.
On paper, Gray said the characters appear very stereotypical, so him and his cast had a big challenge in proving the depth of the characters. Jonathan David Lewis, who stars as C.B., said he did quite a lot of preparation to really get the feel of his character.
“I made sure to get really familiar with the cartoon so I was could be appropriate with all the references. I also went to a few animal shelters and spend some time with dogs, because I’ve never had a pet dog, and I really wanted to identify more with my character's loss” Lewis said.
He also did a lot of social observing and tried to hold back emotions in his real life, as C.B. always did in the Peanuts cartoon, and does in the play.
Emerson Gregori, who plays C.B.’s buddy Van ( like Linus Van Pelt, in the cartoon,) said his general façade is similar to his character, in the sense that he often appears to others as careless, yet insightful, so he already had the “Van” vibe. However, he assured me didn’t have to pick up a doobie to play the teenaged, pot-smoking character.
In addition to these two actors in the play, I thought the other six gave excellent performances and although the story is a saddening, it is also cathartic and at times, humurous. After all, the characters do cry, but also sing, play the piano, have sex, drink, do drugs, laugh, and reunite.
It also reminds me of how glad I am to no longer be a teenager, and I recommend you go check it out to at least get that happy reminder, added with some in sight to modern day teens.
"DOg Sees God" will running in the Studio Theatre at the Long Beach Playhouse on Thrs, Fri, Sat evenings and Sunday aternoons from May 21-June 18th.
5021 E. Anaheim
Long Beach, CA 90804