We all grew up with the Peanuts characters – but what kind of future was waiting for them? Dog Sees God, by Bert V. Royal and directed by Matthew T. Teichner, currently in production at Albany’s Steamer 10 Theatre, gives us one option – and it’s one that will break your heart.
Teenage C.B. (Devin Trager)’s dog just died of rabies; he begins questioning the afterlife. His friends aren’t much help – his sister (Jacqueline Donnaruma) is lost, herself, changing identities every week in search of one that will fit; his best friend Van (Kevin Ruby), lost without his blue security blanket, has become a stoner, and his ability to theologize has (pun most definitely intended) gone to pot; and his “therapist,” Van’s sister (Anna Guntner) is in a mental institution, unable to do the one thing that will earn her release (and not sure she wants to.) As for the adults? They’re as absent as they always were in Peanuts cartoons; their absence is even more haunting in this landscape of children playing at being grown, drinking, swearing, having sex and doing drugs to get through the school day and taking out their anger and frustration by bullying their former friend Beethoven (Brian McBride Land), now a quiet, artistic loner just trying to survive.
Does it sound bleak? It absolutely is. However, if you let that keep you from seeing this show, you’re missing out on a brilliant piece of theater.
Royal’s script itself is heart wrenching, and Teichner has gathered an excellent group of actors; their relationship with one another is clear and defined, and the moments between them are powerful. The set is stark: a familiar doghouse sits center stage with a wooden cross in front of it throughout, a piano sits upstage right, and the other two set pieces are functional, giving the actors room to play. The costumes are also utilitarian, but with a wink to the comics – look for hints to some of the characters in their clothing. And the sound design (also by Teichner) is inspired – grunge and metal, sometimes in haunting instrumental, playing softly in the background (and if you can identify the song, it often fits perfectly with the scene – pay close attention to the scene with Van’s sister.)
It’s hard to single out actors in this production to praise, as there weren’t any weak links. McBride Land’s Beethoven was such a realistic portrayal of a bullied teen it almost hurt to watch him; his few moments of joy were so painfully, beautifully fleeting. Donnaruma was a force onstage; I’ve never seen her work before, but hope to see much more of it. Her stage presence is magnetic. It would have been easy for Guntner to make Van’s sister one-note – it’s easy to play crazy with no levels – but she gave a nuanced, touching performance.
And the ending. Oh, that ending.
Get to the theater and see this before it’s gone. You have no one to blame but yourself if you miss it.
“Dog Sees God,” Steamer 10 Theatre, 500 Western Avenue, Albany, through June 18, $20-$10, Run time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission, (518) 438-5503, steamer10theatre.org