On June 21st, 2013, I attended Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead at the Midvale Main Street Theater. Upon entering the theater, I found myself thinking “How in the world are they going to tie LGBTQ issues into a parody of “The Peanuts?” However, by the end of the production, I was left with the thought “How could they have made this statement any other way?” I was pleasantly confused as I left the theater deep in thought about the myriad of issues presented surrounding LGBTQ culture. This production took what could have been a cheap parody and transformed it into a thought provoking cautionary tale.
As the audience was introduced to CB, his sister, his best friend, and the rest of the gang, we quickly picked up on the allusion being made. However, as the cartoonish characters began to show dimensionality and depth, it became clear that these caricatures had grown. They had experimented with drugs, developed addictions, explored their sexuality, experienced great loss, undergone significant trauma, and emerged as young adults. They were still far from mature, but the scraggly little gang we had come to know and love were now jumping up and down and bobbing their heads to electronica at a rave.
This newfound depth and daring imperfection illustrated just how quickly that little blockhead on the playground can become a teenager dealing with feelings and issues far beyond trivial. It also set the stage for a discussion surrounding LGBTQ rights, as we watched CB and Beethoven struggle with the concept of homosexuality. This discussion was especially interesting, as it left stereotypes and pre-conceived notions behind, offering a less black and white view of homosexuality. As the issue permeated the community of characters, it took on a larger meaning. The play began to explore the way in which society as a whole deals with homosexuality; devastatingly highlighting the catastrophic effects of hate and indifference.
It cannot go without saying that this play also had its fair share of comedic relief. For every cuttingly honest bit of dialogue there was an equally direct bit of humor. Alexa Rideout did a fantastic job of walking this line in her role as Van’s Sister, presenting an argument that was both complex and ambiguous, while keeping the audience chuckling throughout. Her performance wonderfully balanced that of Johnny Hebda as CB, who kept the audience suspended in a teary place between comic strips and moral conscience as he debated the possibility of life after death, as well as his place in life. As a whole, the ensemble did a fantastic job of intertwining the light hearted essence of The Peanuts with a sobering depiction of modern society.
Perhaps what truly drove this tragedy home was the ease from which the key players developed from America’s stock characters. The telling of this story illuminated the way in which the star athlete can become violent and intolerant, the class clown can become detached and passive, the honor student can become naïve and misled, and the shy artist can become a haunting memory. Though somewhat eerie, this parallel solidified the message that tolerance and understanding can only exist once we have acknowledged the hate and fear which are too often enveloped by silence. This is a silence which is often found in the halls of our children’s schools, the corner stores on our streets, and at dinner tables in our own homes. Therefore, I would definitely hope that anyone looking for a humorous and thought provoking night of live entertainment would attend this production, as well as those who may not normally delve into atypical discourses and explore the unknown. This is a show for the contemplative, the curious, the comedic, and the courageous.