By Michael Pisacano
As the show starts, a young man played by Will Hallock is giving a eulogy for his beloved childhood pet dog, who had recently been put down after contracting rabies and savagely murdering a small yellow bird. As his speech comes to a close, we come to realize that this dog was Snoopy, the bird was Woodstock, and the boy is Charlie Brown.
“Dog Sees God” is a satirical look at Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” characters in their adolescence and subverts the iconic personalities of the original characters to shape their personalities as they got older. Charlie Brown, or CB as he’s known in this play, is a character most well-known for his gloomy, down-on-his-luck attitude. The play converts this into an existential crisis about our place in the world and what happens to us after we die, brought upon by his distress over his dog’s recent death. CB’s sister, played by Elyssa Eliseo, is going through a goth/Wiccan phase, and his best friend Van (Linus), played by Casey Worsester, is a pothead who smoked the ashes of his signature blanket. Matt (Pig Pen), played by Brian O’Neill, has taken his filthy persona to a completely different angle as a perverted sexist and violent homophobe. His number one target is Beethoven (Schroeder), played by Antonio Muniz, who devotes the mere minutes of the day where he can escape the abuse to playing his piano.
In most instances, the idea of taking innocent childhood icons and putting them in raunchy adult situations would come across as shock value just for the sake of it. In any lesser variation, we would only see these characters as the cartoons that we already know them as. While the play initially hooks you with that novelty, they slowly begin to morph into characters of their own, thanks to their relatability and surprising emotional realism. “Dog Sees God” uses this concept to address legitimate issues of bigotry against homosexuality, coming to terms with who we are, and the significance of our lives in the grand scheme of things.
As per usual for the “Peanuts”, Charlie Brown comes off as the least interesting character in the group; he spends most of the first act moping about his dog’s death to each character he comes across. It’s not until Beethoven calls out his behavior and challenges CB’s actions towards him that he begins to evolve as a human being, and their relationship begins to evolve as well.
Throughout CB’s quest to understand life, death, and what our purpose is, the play comes to a conclusion with CB receiving a letter giving him all of the answers, signed only with the initials CS. While not necessarily God, the signature alludes to their one true creator, Charles Schulz, which served as a fitting tribute to the long-lasting legacy of Schulz and his characters of the “Peanuts”.
As the cast came out to take their bows, Muniz, who was also the producer on this iteration of the play, became visibly teary-eyed during the final bows, as he thought about the emotional connection that he has developed to this play.
“Besides the obvious message of acceptance of others and standing up against bullying, this play shows how much one person can make such an impact on one’s life,” said Muniz. “It is our choice whether to make it a positive one.”