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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“Dog Sees God” imagines twist on Charlie Brown

<l assault, suicide

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a Peanuts fan growing up and wasn’t very familiar with its characters, besides Charlie Brown and Snoopy. This past weekend, I was introduced to most of the famed Peanuts characters through the play Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. As an Experimental Theatre Board production, my expectations of a novel and exciting play were decidedly fulfilled.

In the opening scene, Dex Schneider ’19, in the guise of “CB” (Charlie Brown), bemoans the death of his dog in a letter to his “pen pal,” which is what sets the play in motion. His grief over the death of his dog (who is never mentioned by name) was so palpable, I could almost feel a chill in the air and tears cloud my eyes.

Caroline Boroughs ’20, who plays the role of CB’s sister, did a stellar performance as well. Her soliloquies on caterpillar metamorphosis were brilliant, and her boundless energy, buoyant self and flair for the dramatic made her a terrific actress.

Tiffany Thet ’17 played Tricia (Patricia in the original Peanuts, for all of you fans out there), one of the two party girls in the show, gave a brilliant portrayal of the “mean girl” personality. Sophie Bokor ’18, who could easily be mistaken for a successor to Emily Clark ’17, displayed a wide array of moods and expressions that captured the volatility of her character, party girl Marie, very well.

The tension between Matt, played by Noah Feldman ’19, and Beethoven, played by Alexander Frieden ’20, is one the two main focuses of the play, the other being CB’S questions about the existence of a dog heaven. Beethoven is the archetypal high school outcast, whose father is incarcerated, possibly for assaulting his son. For this reason, Beethoven’s friends alienate him, because being friends with an abused child is considered something of a taboo, I suppose. He is also called a homosexual from that time onward because of the assault, although as Beethoven aptly says, “I don’t think that is considered making love.”

Matt is supposedly in love with CB, but CB picks Beethoven as his lover instead. After not interacting with Beethoven for months except to bully him, CB has a mostly unsuccessful conversation with him about his dead dog in the music room, while Beethoven plays his keyboard (anyone see the parallels with former real life composer Beethoven?). 

Common misfortune eventually brings these two souls together, and they share their first kiss in the music room. For a reason known only to the writer, Beethoven decides to come to Marie’s party, where he is met with insults and a raging Matt, who tries to attack him. CB defends Beethoven with the words “He’s my friend, too.”

On the level of acting, Schneider, Feldman and Frieden brought the play to life through their realistic acting. Feldman and Frieden were so into their respective evil and haunted characters that I admit that I was afraid of both of them for a moment!

Van, played by Arnav Bajaj ’18, was probably my favorite character. He is a philosophical man who loves to smoke crack, even inhaling the ashes of his beloved blanket which CB and Matt had burned as a prank. He teaches CB’s sister how to smoke, among other things. It is Van’s way of coping with grief, and now it becomes CB’s sister’s too, although she retains her singing and dancing. After Van, she was my favorite character, and Borough is to be credited for fleshing out the role so superbly.

As the play progresses, Beethoven and CB continue to grow closer, sharing an adorable second kiss after Charlie Brown visits Van’s sister in jail. Isabel McFadden perfects the role of Van’s sister, slouching and gesturing appropriately for a person who is mentally-ill, and who had set a girl’s head on fire for the crime of being a goody-two-shoes.

Van’s sister is unapologetic for her actions, and acts headstrong and bold. She asks CB to slip her a pack of matches the next time he visits, and there’s a strong chance that she isn’t joking. I absolutely admired her for living life to the fullest, although in a deviant way.

The climax hits us with the suicide of Beethoven. Matt, in a spur of jealousy, slams Beethoven’s piano onto his fingers, which prompts the latter to escape from his wretched reality by committing suicide. With a startling human shriek and the screech of the piano, the lights go off. It was chillingly beautiful.

The ending of the play was somewhat ambiguous; CB’s pen-pal finally replies and talks of a boy who also played the piano, like Beethoven, and of a dog, much like CB’s dog, and said that they were together. The characters in the play each read a line from the letter, with Beethoven himself reading one of the last lines.

The question persists as to whether CB’s pen pal was sending letters from beyond the grave, or from beyond the script, as the letter was signed “CS”, like “Charles Schulz,” the creator of Peanuts. I thought of that as a subtle implication that there are people like Beethoven, Charlie Brown, and Charlie Brown’s dog in real life, in Charles Schulz’s world.

Overall, ETB once again put up a great show and the director Anna Johnson is to be commended for its brilliance.

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