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Eliza Dushku

Eliza Dushku - "Dog Sees God" Play - Nytimes.com Review

Jason Zinoman

Saturday 17 December 2005, by Webmaster

Aargh! The ’Peanuts’ Gang Hits a Rocky Adolescence

Even the most devoted fans of the comic strip "Peanuts" must wish that Charlie Brown would just once change out of that yellow, jagged-striped shirt. Or shave his string of hair, kick that darn football or do something - anything - different.

But, alas, the world created by Charles M. Schulz hasn’t changed much since it first appeared in 1950, which makes the premise of the disposable parody "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" so irresistible: what would happen to Charlie Brown and his friends if they grew up?

It’s 10 years later, and - prepare yourself - Snoopy has been put to sleep after killing Woodstock. Linus has become Van (Keith Nobbs), a stoner who smoked the burned remains of his security blanket. Pigpen has cleaned up into a violent jock (Ian Somerhalder, from "Lost"). Lucy, known only as Van’s sister (Eliza Dushku, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), is a lithium-addled pyromaniac who has slept with, believe it or not, Charlie Brown, or CB (Eddie Kaye Thomas), as he’s called, a popular kid with a mean streak.

If nothing else, Bert V. Royal’s scenario is a welcome antidote to the notion that the "Peanuts" gang provides merely a slice of American cuteness, perfect for Hallmark cards or Broadway musicals. For while there are plenty of winks to fans, the spirit of the play has as much in common with "Peanuts" as it does with the view of high school as a Darwinian hell (presented in movies like "Heathers" and "Mean Girls"). Turning Schulz’s world into the hormone-infused disaster area imagined by overprotective parents and teenager movies makes for an occasionally funny joke, but it is a cheap one. And when Mr. Royal tries to blend serious, darker issues in with the shockers, he misses as badly as Charlie Brown does with the football.

This is the third incarnation of this black comedy (it opened at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival), and the cutie-pie young actors in the new cast are the kind of marginal celebrities who make audiences wonder, "Isn’t he the guy who starred in ... ?"

For those still wondering, yes, Mr. Thomas was the kid with bowel issues in "American Pie." He plays CB as an empty slate who goes along with the crowd. That might not be a problem if the part didn’t call for him to express some emotion. In an unexpected plot turn, CB falls in love with Beethoven (think Schroeder), the pianist who has been long abused by the popular kids. Just as in a real Hollywood teenager movie, the nerd is played by someone so handsome - Logan Marshall-Green (from "The OC") - that he must overdo his awkwardness, adding a pair of glasses to really prove the point.

The director, Trip Cullman, applies a light touch in some of the romantic scenes - a tender respite from the more hard-edged satire, which doesn’t send up so much as retrace steps. How many times have you seen someone parody a performance artist?

The show works best when it maintains the crass and footloose feel of a guilty pleasure, the kind of play in which it’s all right to talk back to the actors. As Tricia and Marcy - Peppermint Patty and Marcie, as if you needed to know - Kelli Garner and Ari Graynor deliver big, broad laughs as scantily clad girls so tipsy that they cackle at their every joke. Best of all is Mr. Nobbs, whose pothead Van shades his flaky character with a sharp intelligence.

When Mr. Royal shifts his comedy toward melodrama, wading into more introspective themes that touch on free will, it’s abrupt and unconvincing. "Do you ever feel like you’re not a real person?" CB asks his sister. "That you’re the product of someone’s imagination and you can’t think for yourself because you’re really just like some creation and that somewhere there’s people laughing every time you fall?"

Whatever happened to "Good grief"?

"Dog Sees God" is at the Century Center, 111 East 15th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200.