And you will laugh. People keep tuning into soap operas because there’s something appealing about melodrama: the more absurd the characters, the more distanced from reality, the easier it is to just let go and enjoy.
The charm of the original Peanuts strip found humor in a depressingly wishy-washy blockhead. Dog Sees God, a parody of the classic comic, strips away this humanity in favor of the grotesque and shallow stereotypes of teen life, and it’s actually pretty funny—but always in spite of itself. Too many of the jokes come from the satire itself: the clever ways in which C.B. (Eddie Kaye Thomas), now ten years older, still finds ways to “augh” and “good grief” his way through life. It’s about as rich as reality television but also as decadently satisfying. Just look at the cast, pop-celebrity at its finest: from Buffy (Eliza Dushku) to The O.C. (Logan Marshall-Green), American Pie (Thomas), and Lost (Ian Somerhalder).
There are issues presented, yes, about fitting in and the acceptance (or lack thereof) of being gay, but it’s such farce that the tragic is served for our amusement. The play opens with C.B., illuminated in a thin stream of light, speaking in the clipped monotone of narrative, rather than monologue, about his late dog. It seems that Snoopy got rabies and ripped Woodstock apart; there was blood everywhere. It's matter-of-fact, but rather than yielding a traumatizing collision between fantasy and reality (as in the provocative Smurf-killing anti-war propaganda), it's just awkward; all we can do is laugh.
And you will laugh. People keep tuning into soap operas because there’s something appealing about melodrama: the more absurd the characters, the more distanced from reality, the easier it is to just let go and enjoy. Marshall-Green, as Beethoven, is probably the best actor of the bunch, lending conflict and nuance to the nerdy pianist (a polar opposite from The O.C.’s bad boy Trey). But actors like Kelli Garner (Tricia, or a blond, dumb lesbian Peppermint Patty, ten years down the road) and Keith Nobbs (Van, the pothead who smoked his precious blanket after his sister, Lucy, burned it) are the ones who wind up stealing the show. It’s a compliment to the actors, but perhaps a telling flaw that the two most compelling characters are also the most over-the-top, and perhaps we’ve arrived at a circus (“bigger is better”) rather than a play. Most disappointing is probably Somerhalder (Matt, a germaphobe who freaks out at the words ‘pig’ and ‘pen’), who acts as if he’s still in front of a camera and fails to emote beyond the first few rows.
Don’t let this necessarily discourage you from seeing Dog Sees God. Bert V. Royal’s script may not be the most nuanced, but it has at least a little profundity to counterbalance all the profanity. When asked by C.B. if he believes in heaven, Beethoven looks away and quietly replies, “There has to be some kind of reward for living through all this.” In that moment, all the overbearing and overabundant comedy is exposed for what it is: a mask to hide the children as they play adults. No wonder the once-lovable Peanuts gang turns to alcohol, meaningless sex, and marijuana; the grown-up world's a scary place. The moment that mask slips, as it does in the climax, there is violence and violence only. Maybe life is this grotesque.
Century Center for the Performing Arts (115 East 15th Street)
Tickets: $65 (212-239-6200)
Performances: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday @ 8:00; Friday at 7:00 and 10:00; Saturday at 4:00, Sunday @ 7:00