Theater Review: ‘Good Grief!’ and then some at Civic514
Despite its title, “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” Civic Theatre of Allentown’s latest offering, seems straight-forward enough, at least for the first couple of scenes.
The lead character’s dog has died of rabies, and CB invites his friends to the funeral, but no one comes. Along the way, he wonders where people and dogs go when they die.
Then a faint light begins to flicker in the brain. Wait a minute. The show opens with a very large, familiarly-shaped doghouse center stage. CB’s dog was a beagle, and he killed a yellow bird. Probably just a coincidence, until the doghouse converts into a piano and the character Beethoven begins to play.
Good Grief! It’s a parody, and a very excellent one at that. Written by Bert V. Royal, “Dog Sees God” premiered Off-Broadway in 2004 at the Soho Playhouse.
“Dog Sees God,” seen opening night, June 15, for this review, continues through June 24 at Civic’s Theatre514.
Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Sanders, who directs “Dog Sees God,” has chosen the perfect vehicle for Theatre514, an intimate black box performance space well-suited to experimental and small theatrical pieces requiring minimal sets and props.
“Dog Sees God” is also the ideal script to showcase the eight absolutely extraordinary young actors who make up the cast. Each uniquely creates his or her own character with all the required nuances.
Jonathan Shehab (CB) moves effortlessly from the bewildered boy who can’t cope with the loss of his dog to the confused teenager trying to come to grips with who he is and his relationships with others.
As CB’s sister, Emily Gonzalez starts out as an “Elvira-like” character, but capably switches as her philosophies evolve throughout the play. Her spirited dance movements underscore her references to herself as a butterfly and a duck and a platypus.
Kristofer Swanson as the pothead Van, and Jeremy Thompson as CB’s best friend Matt, are pivotal to the action.
Swanson is the well-practiced philosopher, with his smug recitation of Buddhist beliefs wrapped in a cynical view of life.
Thompson is equally capable as the homophobic football player, who outwardly hates germs, but has internalized his own dirtiness.
Veronica Bocian (Tricia) and Alessandra Fanelli (Marcy) play their vacuous, party-crazed characters to the max. When they are on stage, it is Valley Girls meet Charles Schultz all the way. Their long drunken luncheon scene in Act One is beautifully-timed, filled with well-delivered comic one-liners, and a disturbing perspective about the attitudes and priorities of some youth.
Robert Stinner couldn’t have been more suitable as Beethoven, the bullied victim who is still capable of standing up for himself, but who loses the struggle in the end. He provides well-balanced pathos and intensity to many of his scenes with CB.
Kelcie Kosberg (Van’s sister) is visited by CB in the institution where she has been placed for setting the Little Red-Haired Girl’s hair on fire. She provides a welcome tenderness and alternate perspective to the rest of the gang.
In some ways, “Dog Sees God” is a coming-of-age play. It is at times disturbing, funny, thoughtful and revealing. Its CB parody provides a framework that represents the innocent cartoon characters in their childhood years. But that innocence is long-gone when the “curtain” rises. At the end, though, the ramifications of the characters’ teen rebellion and excesses force them to face the world as adults.
Tickets: Civic Theater box office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943