A crude and lewd parody about what happens to the Peanuts Gang when they are high school students, “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” relies on shock value and cheap pandering.
Pretentious hipster claptrap, Bert V. Royal’s script eviscerates Charles Schulz’s cherished comic strip characters that many Americans grew up with, turning them into mostly unflattering caricatures. The majority of the roles do not ring true, because I think their teen selves don’t resemble the people they would logically become.
An edgy darling of the 2003 International Fringe Festival, the play has an improvisational feel, a brainstorm that turned conventional icons into potty-mouthed, drug-taking, promiscuous teenagers. There really is more depth — and connection — in a John Hughes movie. And honestly, a John Waters’ film, too.
The names have been changed to not infringe on copyrighted material. So, Charlie Brown is C.B. and confused about his sexual identity. Michael Baird plays him as a rather bland Everyman, but he attempts to turn the lovable loser into a winner.
In a standout performance, Chris Tipp is heartbreaking as the tormented Beethoven, a piano prodigy who has survived sexual abuse but is ostracized by classmates and relentlessly bullied by homophobic Matt, the Pig-Pen persona who is really a pig, and Brendan Ochs conveys those obnoxious, vile aspects.
Maria Bartolotta is convincing as the Lucy-like Van’s sister, a sociopathic pyromaniac incarcerated, now best buddies with C.B. and medicated to not seethe with anger.
Van is a germophobe like Linus, but the intellectual philosopher is instead a pothead, and Ryan Wiechman conveys stoner qualities but doesn’t endear like the wise old soul. CB’s sister, Sierra Buffam, excels as a girl trying to find her identity, and is perhaps the most believable as the Sally alter-ego.
Sara Rae Womack as Tricia and Eileen Engel as Marcy are not only hard to hear in their high-pitched register, but are extremely unlikable as air-headed mean girls gone wild. I assume they are spoofing Peppermint Patty and Frieda.
Oh, and the beagle dies. Get used to sacrilege on stage as Schulz’s life work is desecrated. You don’t want to know what happened to Woodstock.
Irreverent parody can be a laugh riot, as “Avenue Q” and ‘The Book of Mormon” have proven. But the tone of “Dog Sees God” is all over the place, and it is difficult to connect to the performers as superficially written.
As a dark comedy, it’s not funny ha-ha — it’s painful, and then turns into a very special episode of “Glee” when it veers into tragedy. High school students are more tolerant in 2015, so the homophobic bullying seems to be outdated, and certainly doesn’t break new ground.
I blame the script. Royal went on to write the charming 2010 Emma Stone movie “Easy A,” so it’s perplexing to see such lazy half-baked content here. It does not take any ingenuity to write profanity.
Despite its off-Broadway success and current fashionable appeal, I find it a pitiful excuse for a play, although there is some decent acting in Stray Dog’s presentation, and Rob Lippert’s scenic design is always noteworthy.
“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”
Who: Stray Dog Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.