The Blockhead is all grown up…and dealing with some heavy issues
By SHANE RIGGS
Managing Editor Allegany Magazine
He is everybody’s favorite underdog. That chubby bald kid with the yellow T-shirt. The one who never got Valentines. Oh yes and remember when he bought the wrong
Christmas tree for his school play? Good grief!
But something has changed our little misfit friend – the one who tried so hard to be accepted – the one whose kite ended up in the tree and who could never kick a football – he’s, dare we say it, actually popular now. He sits at the cool kids’ table. No one is sure what C.B. (that’s what he likes to be called now) did to “fit in.” Somewhere between second grade and when we catch up with him in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, he’s somehow not the same. He’s different. He has paid a price to fit in and that action has altered even his friends around him.
Remember his sister who threatened to sue when the Great Pumpkin didn’t show? Well, she’s now into Goth and writing avant-garde theatre. His friend with the blanket now comforts himself with herb – lots and lots of herb. Marcy and her friend – who now prefers to be called Tricia are the mean girls who rule the school. Pig Pen? Well, you’d hardly recognize him. He’s cleaned up…physically. But his mind and his mouth are still in the gutter. Their talented piano playing friend is bullied for his sexuality. The dark haired diva in the cute blue dress is now in Juvi Hall. And C.B.’s beloved Beagle…well…he got infected with rabies and had to be put down.
Sound like a Peanut Gallery you want to visit?
And yet, this is the world created on stage last weekend, last night and for two more “must experience ” performances at the Embassy Theatre in Cumberland. Dog Sees God – written by Bert Royal – is directed in this both funny and shocking presentation by Kimberli Rowley, who also plays the incarcerated sister of C.B.’s best friend.
Bryan Murtha brings C.B. to a rich and unfulfilled life. Murtha embodies what was once good and right and charming about the eight year old everyone knows now struggling with life and death and his own identity. His one scene opposite Rowley is magical and even heart wrenching. It’s a true conversation that two best friends coming to terms with their own choices would make.
Heidi Gardner as C.B.’s sister, Skylar Spanbaugh as Tricia, and Katie Benson as Marcy are the girls in C.B.’s life who flitter in and out much to our hero’s annoyance now. They are the Greek chorus that reminds the audience who and where we are in this unfolding tragedy. Each actress in her role is gifted.
Kirk Yutzy portrays Van – you may recall Linus’ last name is Van Pelt so it would make sense that he shortened it to something cooler and hipper, dude. Matthew Clark plays his part with such twisted sickness that had I not known better I would have confronted him in the lobby. Jordan Kline rounds out the cast beautifully as Beethoven, the actual first name of the toe-headed piano-playing virtuoso created by Charles Schulz. Indeed, all the familiar personalities created by Schulz are here. Even the Red Headed girl is mentioned – and let’s just say she grew up to be – well…hot.
Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is only intended for mature audiences. It contains strong language, sexual situations and violence. It’s a daring show – but the dare is on the audience. The challenge is to see beyond what you think you know about these “kids” and let them grow up.
C.B. grew up. And somewhere along the line, he gave up a part of himself. He traded in what was weird and strange and even endearing – the things that made him the ‘Charlie Browniest’ for what? To be popular? To fit in? To sit at the right table?
And now, with his dog dead he is questioning not only the loss of his pet but of his innocence. The beagle represented so much more to C.B. and when his friends can’t accept that he is in mourning, he must grapple with his own identity and his own impending adulthood.
This is a darker, more mature and even more sentimental story than the Peanuts gang of our youth. The story in the talented hands of the cast and crew of Front and Centre Stage becomes a bittersweet lamentation of lost innocence and a coming of age in an era influenced by the Internet, social media, extreme bullying, access to drugs, and a lack of real spirituality.
Leaving the Front and Centre Stage Production of this show will leave you thinking.
In the director’s note of the program, Rowley writes: “I can’t even read this script without becoming emotional. Maybe it’s because I lived through the time period or maybe it’s because I know people who have gone through similar situations.”
In fact, we all have. It would be true to say that I am C.B. You are too. We all are. In some way. For some moment in time. And in the end, like the little blockhead we love during the holidays, we all had to grow up – we all had choices to make and we all had to live with them. And we learned that sometimes our choices – and our words – good and bad – impact others around us.
“This is a hard hitting piece of theatre.” Rowley warns on the Playbill. “It has some ugly truths and even uglier words. But, in the end, there is a message that I hope will resonate with you as it has with me.”
Indeed it has. The message – and the memory – both of the play and of events from real life – will have me up all night in thought.
Dog Sees God will conclude its run at the Embassy Theatre this weekend. Showtimes are Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission is $12.