You’re pretty cool, Charlie Brown


By Scott Harrah

Back in 1967, Charles M. Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” characters were celebrated in the light and fluffy musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” a show that became a community theater staple before it was revived on Broadway in 1999. Nearly four decades later, an Off-Broadway “unauthorized parody” of Charlie Brown and friends shows a darker, funnier, and more human side of the Peanuts gang, played by an all-star cast of Hollywood’s hottest young actors. “Dog Sees God,” a hit at last year’s New York International Fringe Festival, is a scathing satire of the famous comic strip. To avoid copyright infringement and also show that the gang has matured a bit, playwright Bert V. Royal cleverly avoids using some of the characters’ actual names. However, we all know that “CB” (Eddie Kaye Thomas from the “American Pie” films) is supposed to be Charlie Brown.

As the story opens, CB is mourning the death of his beloved beagle. Although CB never mentions their names, we learn that Snoopy contracted rabies, went berserk and ate his dear old bird buddy Woodstock, so the poor dog had to be euthanized at the pound. CB holds a funeral, but the only one who shows up is CB’s sister (America Ferrera from “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”). His chain-smoking, misanthropic Goth chick sibling suggests that they both pray to a pagan death goddess to bring the dog back to life. This level of lunacy and absurdity sets the tone for most of the show. The thin plot centers on CB consulting all his old pals—Linus, Peppermint Patty, Pigpen and Schroeder—and asking them what death means to them. While the premise may sound morbid, Royal keeps everything fun and hilarious by sending up the eccentricities of his characters as they make the awkward transition to adulthood. The Linus character, Van (Keith Nobbs of “Phone Booth” fame) is a Buddhist pothead who recently smoked his famous blanket. Lucy (known here as Van’s Sister and played by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Eliza Dushku) is a pyromaniac who’s been locked away in a mental institution. Tricia (played with aplomb by Kelli Garner from “The Aviator”) and Marcy (Ari Graynor from “Mystic River” and “The Sopranos”) are both scantily clad, trampy cheerleaders who spike their lunchtime milk with booze. The Schroeder character here is called Beethoven (played by Logan Marshall Green from TV’s “The O.C.”) and is a tortured, picked-upon pianist who’s struggling to come to terms with his sexual orientation. Ian Somerhalder (from TV’s hit drama “Lost”) plays the homophobic jock Matt and bullies Beethoven into a perpetual state of fear and misery. Much credit should go to Trip Cullman, who brilliantly directs this marvelous ensemble cast.

It would be unfair to give away too much of the story, but there’s a budding gay affair between two of the characters that has everyone in shock. Bert V. Royal stabs the satirical needle into not only Schulz’s comic strip but also the entire teen angst genre. “Dog Sees God” pokes fun at everything from the teen classics “Clueless” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” to many of the silly, adolescent TV shows on which some of the play’s actors star. Although the characters are typical teen stereotypes, and the juvenile jokes about getting stoned, drunk and laid are certainly sophomoric clichés, most of the humor is witty and intelligent, and there are many great one-liners. Still, “Dog Sees God” loses some of its panache toward the end when — good grief! — the show takes a confusing tragicomic turn and becomes too serious for its own good. Although a parody of the “Peanuts” characters is probably 30 years overdue, anyone who’s ever loved Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang will enjoy watching them come of age (and see some come out of the closet) in this trenchant spoof.