The palindromic title of Bert V. Royal’s irreverent Peanuts adaptation possesses a profound simplicity. In three short syllables, it brings the audience up-to-date with the fate of a certain black-spotted beagle: Snoopy is dead, a victim of rabies. His owner, a teenager named C.B. (Michael Gladis), is inconsolable. As the play opens, he’s burying his beloved pet in his backyard. “Where do dogs go when they die?” he ponders. Do they in fact meet their maker, as the title suggests? A dog already sees God in its owner, one character speculates, and God puts a part of Himself in every dog. That’s heavy stuff for a play based on a comic strip, but then again, Charles M. Schulz’s Sunday-morning regular always possessed a yen for introspection and a deep respect for the intelligence of children.
A FringeNYC hit, Dog Sees God successfully taps into that vein of melancholy rumination. It also subverts it, reconfiguring the comic strip’s pre-adolescent anomie into archetypal teen angst. Much of the viewer’s pleasure (and pain) will come from learning how each Peanut turned out; suffice it to say the gang includes a bully, a goth girl, a pothead, an airhead, a slut, and a sissy. Indeed, the play goes gay in a major way around the halfway point, one of many attempts to drag these familiar characters into the 21st century. The results can be overly sincere, but more often than not the cast emphasizes humor over bathos. (As C.B.’s sister, Karen DiConcetto steals the show with a single comic monologue.) If little else, Royal’s play will render obsolete such productions as the 1999 revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Once you’ve seen Peppermint Patty fellating Pig Pen while Linus gets high on marijuana, there’s no going back.