A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
It has been ages since I’ve looked at a Peanuts comic strip. I can remember my grandfather saving the Sunday “funnies” for when I visited on the weekends (so that would be when I was…ah…10, so, ahem, 18ish years ago). I never really connected with the comic when I was young, it seemed abstract and gray in my wee mind. I do, however, remember all of the touchstone characters.
And you’re going to remember them too. I’m so, so happy to report that Spotlighter’s had a packed house for their opening night of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, currently running through the 28th. Fuzz Roark (Artistic & Producing Director) and I were psyched! It was really lovely to be sitting next to somebody instead of being one of ten people in the audience. Dog, written by Bert V. Royal, tells the melodramatic story of the Peanuts gang fast forwarded to their senior year of high school. Since this is the “unofficial” spin-off, the characters’ names have been modified, but I’m sure you get the drift (ie: CB is guess who). Also, director Fuzz Roark did a great job with casting and the costuming (design by Laura Nicholson) looks exactly the part. The show opens with CB (Sean Dynan) writing to his pen pal for the first time in several years. The play is a flashback to the story he tells in his letter about his recent (dramatic) life as high schooler. It all starts off relatively benign and expected. Each of the Peanuts characters have grown a iconic high school persona. Matt (Dennis Binseel) is the super-hot jock asshole who’s temper flares up like a southern baptist preacher. CB’s Sister (Parker Bailey Steven) plays a young and secretly in love Wednesday Addamsish goth girl like it’s her life’s mission to always be miserable; yet somehow she’s more logical and intelligent than everybody else in the room. She’s the sole member of the Drama Club, and later in the show we get an amazing (correction: FUCKING AMAZING) devised solo theatre piece on turning into a platypus. Funny. Shit. Van (Adam Abruzza) is the easy-going fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants pothead with a heart of gold and a sweet smile to boot! Van’s Sister (Autumn Rocha), whom we only see briefly, has been put in Juvie for setting a red-headed girl’s hair on fire. Somehow we understand that she’s really got life figured out. She’s got some of the best lines in the first half of the show. Trisha (Melanie Glickman) is the trash-talking-hugely-toxic-under-aged-super-skinny alcoholic. Marcy (April Jones) summons the spirit of the angsty (read: horny) sexy high school smart-ass who balances on the edge of geek and super-star. Beethoven (Reed DeLisle) is the lone gayboynextdoor at the school who is taunted and prodded at by all of the other characters except CB’s Sister…. because see, she’s totes in love with him.
This whole thing is really about how horrible teenagers can be, of course. Anybody who says they had an amazing time in high school is either lying or just plain bulletproof. This play exposes the deep, dark, and very twisted relationship dynamics of the mid-to-late teens. It’s really fucking rough, both in this proverbial high school, and in real life. You all know, you all lived it. In this show Matt goes so far as to openly call Beethoven a “fag” and physically and emotionally taunts the poor, quiet musician.
What’s wonderful about Dog Sees God is how a plot twist involving two of the main male characters sends a seismic wave through all of their corresponding relationships. We openly see homophobia across almost all of the characters, but when two dudes kiss, not only is it a really touching moment played over Chopin, it later becomes an injection of education for the rest of the them. Duh, gay people exist, and suddenly this guy we all know and love..is…well. Gay. The secret lovers, revealed to be CB and Beethoven, kiss in the middle of a dance floor at a party and end up being thrown out by one of the girls in the gang. CB outs his best pal and they dash out of the party, terrified at the consequences. They dodge and weave their way through the next school day and we can feel there’s tension brewing in the ranks. Later Jockboy Matt violently assaults Beethoven over The Kiss. We all can put together that just perhaps Matt might have been a little bromancey toward CB. Yeah, he’s got the CB bug, and he’s got it hard. He just doesn’t understand what it means and he’s going to take all his teenage angst out on CB’s love: Beethoven.
It’s horrifying, and tragically sad.
By the end of the play, tears will be streaming down your face, then you’ll laugh, then more tears, and then the damned laughing again. Dear God, where were the tissues? [Note to Oracle: provide tissues as part of writing contract. Note to Achilles: Of course. I will be taking approximately one tissue packet out of your rate. – TBO] It’s a hard show to watch and even harder to (truly) understand because all of these things, all of these plot points are totally. Fucking, The T. I mean, Matthew Shepherd, and more, and more, and more. And it breaks your heart to watch kids treat each other with such toxic bile and sheer hatred.
Fuzz tackled this difficult work with a team of young actors who are actively living some of these scenarios. Their presence was amazing. I TOTALLY felt this show. The first few scenes come off as over-the-top, both in written language and acting style, but by the time the tone settles down, the performances are true and heartfelt. Reede DeLisle’s (probably gay) Beethoven is the star on this stage. His ability behind a piano as well as how he expertly handled his receded and tortured character was superb. Next on the docket for astonishingly good was Dennis Binseel as the overly angry Matt. He went from zero to ninety on the anger scale in 2.3 seconds flat. At first It was hard to believe, but then I could see he was channeling the stereotypical heterohyper-masculine father figure. Brilliant work. The ladies were similarly lovely. I saw the cat fights, I saw the jealousy, I saw the touching love. What I enjoyed most from the double X set was Rocha’s fab delivery as Van’s Sister. She’s got some wonderful material to work with and boy does she WERQ! The set, lights, and sound design were supportive, but there’s really not much to mention in those arenas. This show doesn’t really need a set per-say, so the minimal and suggestive pieces put together by Alan Zemla worked fairly well.
BOTTOM LINE: This is hard shit people, and Spotlighters pulls it off expertly and, I’d even go so far as to say, effortlessly (although theatre, especially small theatre, is never actually effortless). Fuzz pushes the emotion in the right directions and the actors really have you feeling the teen angst of 1999. The courage it takes to produce, design, and act a work of this style and topic takes true heart and dedication. Cheers all around for making Achilles Feels cry in the theatre. It’s been a long time since a show brought me to tears. Feel all the feels.
Running at Spotlighters until June 28th
Email Achilles Feels at firstname.lastname@example.org
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