Players by the Sea presented a special show from June 14 to June 22 that was not a part of their regular season. The efforts of “Dog Sees God” Director Bradley M. Akers and Players by the Sea, always seeking new works and diverse subjects, brought this production to fruition.
This is an after-the-fact review; mainly because so many plays were opening at other theatres where we had long standing review commitments during the same time frame. What attracted us to this show was the talented cast of young actors we have seen in other shows, mainly at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. In fact, we can speculate that the majority of the audience for the run of this play attended because they knew cast members and not because they were drawn by the content.
The creative mind and talent of the late Charles Schultz, made “Peanuts” and all its characters loveable and world famous. Bert V. Royal, author of “Dog Sees God”, has done a takeoff on “Peanuts”, and has re-imagined all these characters as teenagers in high school. The names have been changed, not to protect the innocent but to avoid any potential lawsuits from the Schultz estate. Royal’s concept of the gang makes for a very dark comedy, albeit one with a message.
The play opened with CB/Charlie Brown sitting atop a dog house lamenting the death of his beloved beagle. Yes, one of the most colorful and most loved of cartoon characters ever had contracted rabies and had to be put to an untimely death. DA Senior DEVIN REARDON was excellent as CB, and this was the most demanding role from the standpoint of time on stage. CB’s sister (not identified by name), played by KATIE SACKS, does a terrific monologue in goth attire about turning into a platypus. (We told you this is a dark and quirky comedy). Tricia/Peppermint Patty (HANNAH MOGAN) and Marcy (ABBY GOMEZ), are best buddies who enjoy chatting, getting drunk, and three way sex.
LINDSAY CURRY, identified only as Van’s sister (actually Lucy), is locked up in solitary confinement for acting on pyromaniac impulses when she set fire to a girl’s hair. Ms. Curry’s was the only non-student in the play and her scene in the jail was one of the best in the show and certainly the funniest.
JAY COBIAN played Van (the Linus character), perhaps the most intelligent of the gang in this show, despite being a stoner and always smoking grass. His oddest scene was when he imagined his guitar was a bong and he kept lighting the strings at the bottom and “smoking”. (Actually real bongs may be outlawed in this city).
Remember Schroeder, who was always playing the piano? Well, here he was Beethoven, still obsessed with the piano, but a lonely social outcast, and gay. This role was very sensitively played by TYLER C. RAMIREZ.
Well, we guess you can say we saved the worst for last. Playing Matt/Pigpen as a homophobic menacing bully is PABLO J. MILLA. We have seen Mr. Milla in a number of plays locally and this is the most unusual character he has ever portrayed. In a violent scene, Matt, who was constantly bullying Beethoven, attacks him, smashing all his fingers so he can no longer play music and driving him to commit suicide. Interestingly, Matt appears in the next scene, apparently not even arrested despite the fact all the students knew of his intense animosity toward the young pianist. (The play was close to two hours long at this point and perhaps there was no time for justice).
Tyler Ramirez’s set design lined the walls with blackboards that the characters used for writing graffiti , and added accents in primary colors, while Sam Stark’s lighting design flooded the stage with color, an approach that underscored the play’s comic-strip origin and school house setting.
Despite the subject matter, the entire cast delivered solid performances. As a play it contained prejudice, torture, suicide, bullying, sexual situations, abortion, and drinking and drug usage. Did we miss anything? We have to hand it to Playwright Royal, (who is originally from the Jacksonville area but is now involved in the film world in Los Angeles) for using the “Peanuts” characters as a basis for his script. This play, since it debuted at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival, had an Off Broadway production and has been done over the years by many theatres all over the US. Without the tie-in to Charlie and the gang, we don’t think it would have been nearly as successful.
BRADLEY M. AKERS is a DA graduate now living in Philadelphia and involved in several theatre projects. We do admire Mr. Akers directing talents in dealing with the play’s challenging material. Our first encounter with Bradley was when we saw him as one of the children in “The Sound of Music” at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. Good grief, he has come a long way!