Charlie Brown and the other Peanuts – with the death of their cartoonist Charles Schulz – left us 11 years ago this month as the same innocent, if somewhat existentialist, eight-year-olds they’d been since 1950.
Bert V. Royal’s “Dog Sees God,” whose production at the Firehouse Theater Project on Broad Street opened last Thursday, picks up on the beloved characters a decade later, in perhaps less idyllic times.
For example, Snoopy has been put to sleep. Thumbsucking philosopher Linus van Pelt is a vaguely-Buddhist stoner after someone burned his blanket, and Lucy has been institutionalized, having set the Little Red Headed Girl’s hair on fire.
The play – subheaded “Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” – and its update on the iconic comic strip are wholly unauthorized by the United Features Syndicate, or by Charles Schulz’s estate. This means that while none of the characters are named directly as Peanuts, the play drops more than enough hints to tell us who’s who: “Tricia York,” for example, is a teenage Peppermint Patty (get it?), who along with “Marcy” (formerly Marcie) have become vicious high school mean girls, hurling abuse at neighboring cafeteria tables and swilling vodka-laced milk cartons.
Charlie Brown is “CB,” the familiar charming yet sullen daydreamer, is deeply stricken by Snoopy’s death; he and younger sister Sally, gone goth beyond repair and billed as “CB’s sister” in the play, argue over Snoopy’s grave in the opening scene over who should say a prayer for him.
Pigpen goes by “Matt” these days, a violent jock type who’s internalized his filthiness into obsessive-compulsive neatness and an intense homophobia. Piano prodigy Schroeder, now “Beethoven,” is mostly isolated in his practice room after rumors circulate he may be a homosexual. Most of the play revolves around CB’s attempt to rekindle his and Beethoven’s friendship, and the consequences that follow.
“Dog Sees God” already lends itself to emotional immediacy from the familiarity of its characters – but a play dealing with themes of teenage abuse, homophobia and self-harm finds itself especially pertinent after recent months of horrific press on these same issues.
VCU Theatre junior Kyle Cornell, who plays CB at the Firehouse production, said that “Dog Sees God” should hold an appeal for anyone who’s been a teenager at some point – the play, although chiefly a satire, “paints an honest portrait of the teenage experience that all audiences can relate to on some level,” he said. “There’s something in the story for everyone.”
The Firehouse Theatre Project production of Bert V. Royal’s “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” runs from Feb. 3-26, with 8 p.m. shows Thursdays-Saturdays and selected 4 p.m. pay-what-you-will matinees. Tickets are $12 for students, $26 for adults, and $23 for seniors 65 and older. 1609 West Broad Street. (804) 355-2001. For more information, visit the Firehouse Theatre Project website at www.firehousetheatre.org.