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Snoopy snaps!! 

Plus a pig party and a bloody amputation

Times are bad in Peanuts Land. Charlie Brown, Schroeder, Linus and the gang are all in the throes of adolescence in Dog Sees God, playwright Bert V. Royal's unauthorized sequel to Charles Schultz's beloved comic strip. The onset of puberty is as catastrophic as a Bush 43 invasion. In the wake of Snoopy's horrific demise, CB is brooding over the meaning of it all – and will master and pet be reunited in the great beyond?

The sometime-WW1 fighter pilot has chomped down his songbird pal Woodstock in a rabies rampage before unseen parents from the adult realm put him to sleep. Ever the loser on the social front, CB has little success rounding up a minyan for his pooch's funeral, settling for little sister Sally, now transformed into a Wiccan goth.

As CB makes his rounds, we encounter a breathtaking range of profanations among the formerly cute-and-cuddly Peanuts gang. After losing his trademark security blanket in a mean-spirited prank, Van -- now a Buddhist toker -- has smoked the remnants. Matt gets a bit psycho if you call him Pigpen, morphing into a compulsively anal, partying, homophobic cokehead. That's bad news for Schroeder, er, Beethoven, who must take refuge with his keyboard and his Chopin in a practice room after too many lunchtime beatings in the school caf.

The only member of the gang with a legitimate excuse for missing the Snoopy solemnities is Lucy Van Pelt, Van's sister. She's confined to a mental hospital security ward until she admits that setting fire to a classmate's hair was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Royal resketches this gallery of portraits with comic strip concision, and the simple, intimate Queen City Theatre Company production is as pleasurable as the original Off-Broadway staging 2005-06. A splash of lurid lighting accentuated Lucy's pyromania in the Off-Broadway version, but Amanda Nicastro's softer, tamer and more sensual cameo here at Duke Power Theatre proves that the dimestore soothsayer need not descend into raving lunacy to be memorable.

Other standouts include Scott Flanary's ruminating, incurably wholesome CB and Matt Kenyon's soft, defiant, suspicious and achingly needy Beethoven -- two conflicted yet remarkably natural performances. Right on down to Jenn Quigley as Tricia (Peppermint Patty) and Ashli Stepp as Marcy, this is the strongest cast, top to bottom, that Queen City has put together.

Artistic director Glenn Griffin aims less for shock value than the folk in Greenwich Village did in '05. Ultimately, that's a good thing because Royal's takedown of Peanuts Land doesn't end with the harrowing disfigurements that have overtaken Schultz's creations.

CB doesn't merely apologize to Beethoven for his past bullying; he makes a move on him! Good grief, it doesn't stop there as pent-up passions careen out of control. You're missing out on one of the best shows of the season if you don't follow this rollicking, harrowing cartoon to its sweetly absurd ending.

Despite all the music and lyrics that B. Wolf has showered upon the stage adaptation of If You Give a Pig a Party, Children's Theatre is asking Metrolina Theatre Association to judge its current production in the comedy category for its annual MTA Awards. Good choice, for Wolf is no threat to Mozart among the anklebiter set, and the heaviest deluge of his handiwork is the prime reason this bacon starts out with so little sizzle.

Once the baddest Wolf gets out of the way of Nancy Schaeffer's script -- and the touring Tarradiddle Players can perform its ritual laying on of hams -- kiddie lethargy vanishes at Wachovia Playhouse. With a squeal here and an oink there, Lesley Ann Giles makes an adorable pig, with perhaps the best singing voice in the current troupe.

We don't really get comedy lift-off, however, until we find that she pals around with a mouse and a moose. Across the hall at ImaginOn, they're tackling the challenges of scale in The BFG (Big Friendly Giant), but here director Alan Poindexter leaves the stupidity well enough alone. Stephen Seay will no doubt satisfy the toddlers as Mouse, though he's not radically smaller than Moose. Ashby Blakely is prodigious, comedy-wise, as the shy, sensitive, smart-alecky, and perpetually dorky venison. When you watch Moose's contribution to the party pancake making, you'll see what I mean.

Even Wolf's music gets better when Pig finds her pals "At the Fair," and prop designer Peter Smeal's evocation of bumper cars, the rollercoaster and Pig's bike add to the delight of the long comedy detour. Darlene Parker Black as the Girl adds a merry, generous attitude to the mix, more than balancing her controlling impulse with a patient indulgence toward the eagerness, the energy and the innate comedy of the beasts in her care. Wiser than many a parent who forgets to enjoy his or her offspring.

Can you really reduce Romeo and Juliet to 85 minutes without destroying its luster, passion and magic? Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey gave it a shot last week in a bare-bones touring production at UNC Charlotte. Didn't work for me in the early going, particularly in the indelible balcony scene -- where time stands still and two teens, tossing aside the prejudices of their families in one audacious, instinctual leap, marvel at their simultaneous discovery of true love. Hey, gotta go!

Later when miscommunications did their dirty work, I did find that Jack Moran captured the rashness and devotion of Romeo while Rebekah Brockman moved me as Juliet. Among the rest, Matthew Simpson's volatile Capulet surrendered the least in this bloody amputation.

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