- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Good grief. In “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” the Peanuts gang is a bunch of adolescents. They’re also so messed up that you may feel the need afterward to suck your thumb and cling to a security blanket.

Bert V. Royal’s sublimely rancid little comedy — an unauthorized parody of Charles Schulz’s long-running comic strip —finds Snoopy pushing up daisies (before succumbing to rabies, he reduced poor Woodstock to a pile of yellow feathers) and his owner, CB (James Manno, who has mastered Charlie Brown’s bumpy smile and abashed demeanor), experiencing sexual confusion.

CB’s Sister (Lauren Williams) is a punk-Goth performance artist — her one-teenager show, about a caterpillar wanting to become a platypus instead of a butterfly, is a priceless portrait of arty pretentiousness — who has a crush on the sensitive, bullied Beethoven (James Gardiner), also the object of her brother’s affections. Pigpen is all cleaned up. He’s a germ-phobic jock named Matt (Robert Rector) who verbally bashes homosexuals when not bouncing between the twin beds of cheerleaders Tricia (Catherine Deadman, playing the Peppermint Pattie character as an anorexic airhead of the Nicole Ritchie variety) and Marcy (Ryan Christie, hilarious as a brain trying to be a dumb bunny).

Linus, meanwhile, has traded in his security blanket for the cozy fog of a weed habit — and as the character, Van (Evan Casey), spouts Birkenstock-gazing, vaguely Buddhist, philosophies. His sister (Regina Aquino) is a pyromaniac who’s confined to the nuthouse for torching the tresses of the Little Red-Haired Girl.

Two of the best performances around town this summer involve stoner characters, first in Michael Kahn’s Beatles-eque “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and now with Mr. Casey’s Van, who combines the loose-limbed groove of Mr. Natural with a penchant for weirdly wise pronouncements, usually accompanied by a plume of silly smoke. The laid-back Van’s foil is his sister, and Miss Aquino is unsettling and shockingly funny as the angry Lucy character.

Nothing remotely as happiness-inducing as a warm puppy happens in the mongrel world of “Dog Sees God.” But those not too proprietary over the beloved Peanuts characters should find plenty of caustic humor and inventiveness in this short work, directed with a talent for the snark by Keith Alan Baker. The comedy, in fact, owes more to “South Park” than to Charles Schulz. Still, some affectionate tributes emerge, such as samplings of the Vince Guaraldi music from the Charlie Brown specials mixed in with the hip-hop and alternative sounds and the cast breaking into the Charlie-Brown-gang-style boogieing at one of Tricia’s keggers.

If there is anything blockheaded about “Dog Sees God,” it’s that Mr. Royal can’t leave well enough alone and be content with a blistering satire. He has to throw in references to Columbine-style student violence and a warm and fuzzy ending in which CB hears from his long-lost pen pal (someone called “CS” ) who acts suspiciously like his creator. This denouement, which also features the rest of the cast in baseball uniforms standing reverently on the pitcher’s mound as if poised to belt out “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” is very much like Charlie Brown himself — wishy-washy.

As a parody, “Dog Sees God” is delicious. As a message about hope and tolerance, perhaps Snoopy says it best: Arf.

WHAT: “Dog Sees God: ConWHAT: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” by Bert V. Royal

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 6.

TICKETS: $25

PHONE: 202/232-3300

MAXIMUM RATINGS: FOUR STARS

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