The affecting Nel Gomez (center) as a teenage Charlie Brown leads the cast of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” Twin Bill Theater’s maiden offering. Its last performance will be on Feb. 26 at the Staple and Perk Bakery, Ecoplaza Building, Pasong Tamo, Makati City. PHOTO FROM FRINGE MANILA
‘Dog Sees God’: Charlie Brown and company grow up–and how
Watching “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” Twin Bill Theater’s maiden offering, occasions both an emotional roller-coaster ride and a bittersweet look back at a beloved, if misremembered, past.
The “unauthorized parody” written by Bert V. Royal in 1994 is based on Charles M. Schulz’s world-famous Peanuts characters. By compelling Charlie Brown, Pigpen, Lucy, Linus and that whole iconic bunch to grow up as teenagers in the early 2000s, Royal rips the veneer from our childhood and measures its vaunted ideals versus the realities of our times.
It’s like studying up close the heroes represented to you as paragons of virtue in your schoolbooks and seeing the mortal human beings behind the myths.
For millennials, or even younger people, who never really grew up with the Peanuts gang, the play acts as a platform about their issues. The dilemmas Royal wrestled with 16 years ago may not be as intense now—at times coming off as rather dated and anachronistic—but the actors do a creditable job of bringing the characters and their struggles vividly to life.
Schulz probably would not have minded this take on his work, thorny copyright issues aside. The Peanuts cartoon strip may have dished its own doses of wit and humor, but it was far from being a feel-good Disney fairy tale. Bullying, loneliness, unfairness, inequality, failure and loss were part of Schulz’s own journey, along with the rosier aspects of childhood like friendship and loyalty.
In “Dog Sees God,” Royal merely accelerated the trip into adulthood and took off the kid gloves.
Director Steven Conde puts the action right in front of the audience’s face with an almost bare stage that nearly dissolves the boundaries between performers and spectators. The cramped quarters of Staple and Perk Bakery, with flexible furniture as props, enhances the intimacy of the performances, adding another layer to the “confessional” aspects that the title refers to.
Royal’s biting, edgy script pushes the envelope when it comes to these familiar characters, making the audience see their transformation from comic-strip icons wrestling with their innocence into angry, emotionally turbulent teenagers looking to cement their identity.
Nothing is sacred. This playground is no longer the familiar Peanuts milieu, as sex, suicide, violence and despair are discussed, ranted about and even reveled in openly. The teens in this play bare their hearts, risking and fighting vulnerability and judgment.
Charlie Brown’s quest for connection—here played by an affecting Nel Gomez who makes loneliness charismatic —is triggered by the death of his beloved pet. Snoopy is never seen, but his presence is felt throughout the play. The beagle’s departure is disturbing and immediately gives you a preview of what is to come; the dog dies of rabies after eating his bird best friend, Woodstock.
The friendships that create the core of the foundation of the Peanuts saga then unravel. Gab Medina’s Linus has thrown off the proverbial blanket and has gotten hooked on other addictions. Camille Velicara, presumably Sally, is an actress who challenges the school’s status quo. Sarah Facuri as Lucy still plays psychiatrist, but this time she has spent time in rehab for actually setting fire to the red-haired girl that CB loved.
The performances of this young ensemble are riveting, but none more compelling than the triangle (in more ways than one) of CB, a pugnacious Pigpen (Brian Sy) and the conflicted but incredibly talented Beethoven (Vince Lim). CB feels torn between these two best friends, and it would be a spoiler to reveal why.
But his decision literally wrenches him out of his comfort zone and forces him to become his own man. At the end of the day, even without Snoopy by his side, CB stops becoming a loser and begins taking charge of his own destiny.
That awakening comes with a very heavy price, one that the audience feels deeply at the end. And when the applause comes during curtain call, the nostalgia felt at the start of the play is replaced by respect for the courage of the characters onstage. Despite facing their own demons and not having all the answers, they never flinched and just kept walking on in their journey.
Twin Bill Theater’s “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” will have its last performance on Feb. 26 at the Staple and Perk Bakery, Ecoplaza Building, Pasong Tamo, Makati City. Call Francis, 0927-4604652.