Director Brian Allard brings Bert V. Royal's 2004 off-Broadway smash Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead to the stage at Portland's CoHo Theater this summer starring a brilliant cast of some of Portland's most talented young actors. Dog Sees God is a moving, often incredibly hilarious, tragic and ultimately honest yet Post Modern look at the American teen through the skewed reference of the Peanuts gang created by Charles Schulz. Marketed as parody and boldly stating that the production is not sanctioned by United Features Syndicate or the estate of the late-great Charles M. Schulz thus invoking the First Amendment rights to avoid legal entanglements.
Noah Goldenberg shines as C.B. a young ambivalent teen searching for identity and meaning in life after the tragic death of his best friend, his beagle. His sister (Kaia Hillier who's mid-play interpretive dance/one woman-show is a truly inspired show stopper) is
a revolving door of subcultural allegiances and misplaced affections. After no attends the funeral of his rabid dog he seeks solace and answers from his peers, the blanket less Van( a pitch-perfectly castTristyn Chipps), a stoner-philosopher and Matt, a sexually compulsive germophobe, homophobe and "pigpen" for answer in the absence of his girlfriend, Van's sister (Ally Yancey) a stirringly haunting reminder of the girl we have all know in life, who went one antic too far. Marcy and her sir, Peppermint Patty (now Marcie and Trisha) have been transformed into vicious
mean girls with surgically precise comic timing by Becca Anderson and Lissie Lewis (who apparently chopped off an whopping 11" of hair for Marcy's signature bob) invoking everything powerful of those insecure girls in high school who were as brutal as they were beautiful. Their ignorance and callous indifference lead to the play's inevitable, yet still shocking conclusion.
Despite, or rather precisely due to the adult content of the material presented I'd encourage parents and older teens alike to see the work together, 20-30 something siblings drag their apathetic angst-y your kin to CoHo and open up a dialog because despite the post modernity of the work I've rarely seen a truer modern American high school
experience depicted on stage or screen. Incest, sexual confusion, three-ways, copious drug use, the nature of an after life, Chopin, sporks, suicide, rabies, blow-jobs and the Budda all are fair game. As for the Chopin, it's courtesy of Schrodder stand-in Beethoven played with bitterness and awkward vulnerability by Joel Durham. Durham's anger seethes making the role more complex and interesting than the expected one-dimensional often saintly victim role required to "teach" us of the evils and dangers of bullying. When Beethoven gives C.B. a mix tape after a bitter argument there is something heartbreakingly honest and yet sexy about those waning awkward teenage moments.
Young actor and and United States Marine Corp member Nathan Daniel's Matt will haunt you long after as much for his pants dropping crassness as his malicious violence seething beneath he's surface. The same goes for Ally Young as Van's Sister (Lucy) her mental anguish is matched by her biting humor in the play's second half. When C.B. says I love playing doctor with you to "Lucy" we feel the moments of childhood slipping away into an uncertain adolescence. Exhilaration and fear and all the uncertainty that comes with the twilight of of one age and the dawning of the next is poignantly apparent as the entire cast have either just progressed beyond the high school experience or are still in the throws of that hormonal wasteland. Much of C.B.'s musings on what is the after life might have been equally what is life after THIS... this limbo hell propagated as the paradise of youth. It ads a sense of realism not only to the performances but to the viral marketing campaign which finds the cast blogging in character (check out My Dog Died...).
The entire cast and crew, with who I sat down with for a post-show chat were an impressive bunch, from the stage manager down- they are all under 20, Noah Goldenburg is a shocking 16 (sorry - he's nearly 17 and left towards the end of our chat because he had driver's ed the next morning.) The young performers also know the importance of the invisible "magic of theater" moments and wanted to make damn certain everyone knew they appreciated their backstage help.
"We fuckin' love Tom!"
They shouted praise with unanimous force from all parties in-front of a slightly embarrassed Tom Young, the Assistant Stage manager. and Stage manager Jena Bodell strongly professed that the cast was the best cast she has ever worked with. Indeed in my brief time with the youngsters I saw an easily apparent affection for each other and a high level of committed professionalism. They were playful and frank and full of private jokes and post show exhilaration (someone mentioned something about someone's sister and something about Ninja Warrior... but I digress). They were delightfully foul mouthed and innocently adorable all at once. When Joel Durham statedI highly recommend this entertaining and thought provoking production of Bert V. Royal's astonishing first play , you won't regret it. Support the arts folks! It's the best investment you can make.
"I wish I had a good quote."I believed he did, but did he realize that was precisely the perfect quote, summarizing all those in-between moments of youth and all that language is so inadequate to convey. Despite a few clunky transitions the play resonated deeply with truth for me and zips along at a lean one hour and forty minutes. I was impressed how despite the small audience at the Sunday night performance barely more than fifteen people the cast and crew gave it their all with grace and dignity and ferocious sense of humor. Let it be stated again and again, while the play is heart-wrenching at times it is by far one of the funniest you'll see in quite some time
July 10- August 1
and 2 pm on Sunday
Pay-What- You-Will THURSDAYS!!
The CoHo Theater
2257 NW Raleigh
Portland OR 97210