Good Grief

They say comic strips are a four-color funhouse mirror of reality. With Peanuts, Charles Schulz used four panels to reflect on universal childhood traumas. In Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, playwright Bert V. Royal returns the favor by holding up a mirror to Schulz's creation and giving the Peanuts kids teenage problems. His play finds the high school-aged CB lamenting the loss of his beloved beagle, who has been put down after falling victim to rabies. It seems the entire gang here has mutated into rabid versions of themselves. Matt, who grew up under a perpetual dust cloud, is now a violent germaphobe who will not tolerate being referred to by his childhood moniker, Pigpen. Tricia (Peppermint Patty) and Marcy are Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie types, though Marcy still calls Tricia "sir" every once in a while. CB's sister continues her search for identity, as a Wiccan; Van has turned to marijuana and Buddhism after being robbed of his blanket; and Van's sister is locked away in a mental institution for pyromania, and it doesn't look as if any number of 5-cent therapy sessions will provide her a way out. Finally, Beethoven finds himself the object of the ridicule and social misunderstanding that so often come with being a musical prodigy.

The subtlety of Trip Cullman's direction keeps these characters from being pigeonholed as mere stereotypes and effectively lets us discover each of their Peanuts counterparts, with a few hints from Jenny Mannis's Gap-inspired costuming. Issues of sexuality, substance abuse and self-discovery, common to adolescence, are deftly made more profound by our familiarity with these characters.

Off-Broadway could hardly hope for a cast better suited to depict the teenage experience. Eddie Kay Thomas endows his CB with the same frustrations, albeit more sexual than football related, that endeared his illustrated counterpart to generations of readers. America Ferrera, as CB's sister, gives a touching salute to the plight of younger siblings everywhere. As Van, Keith Nobbs engagingly captures the need for meaning beyond materialism. Though Matt's need for cleanliness and his homophobia may seem a little forced at first, Ian Somerhalder skillfully uses his character's obsession to drive the play's darker scenes.

Likewise, Logan Marshall-Green's sexually confused Beethoven provides an empathic center for the play. As Tricia, Kelli Garner vibrantly channels Anna Nicole Smith with a hint of Peppermint Patty without falling into caricature. Marcy remains a bespectacled, multifaceted enigma in the hands of Ari Graynor, and she is equally at home recounting the history of the spork and free-styling hip-hop beats. Van's committed sister appears in only three scenes, and Eliza Dushku doesn't waste them. She revels in the unpredictability of her character and avoids becoming a "you love to hate her" clich

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