Finding the Good in Grief

Continuing with my busy little week of drudgery, but still frantically fighting to squeeze in as much of the theatre packed into this town as I can.  It’s now a given that I’m missing the two cool French shows on this week (Apologies, DELUGE and CINEMASSACRE!), but I would be damned if I was gonna miss thee latest offering from the cutting edge theatre hoodlums that make up Red.Collective.  The second show in their current full season, Bert V.Royal’s DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD, was on the third night of its four night run last night, and I was pumped for it.  I sidled on into their HQ in the cozy SAW Gallery and took my seat, and OMG HAS SAW GALLERY HAD THOSE RISERS ALL THIS TIME???  Seriously, did we suffer through years of terrible Fringe show sightlines for nothing?  Damn!

But I digress.  DOG is a trippy piece of work, essentially an extended work of speculative fanfiction set in the PEANUTS universe.  As a veteran of the Fanfic wars of the 90’s, this tickled me plenty.  Taking place in High School, where the gang has become a hormone-riddled, angsty bunch of poorly adjusted malcontents, we quickly meet our hapless hero ‘C.B.’, played with straightforward honesty by Dave Rowan.  His dog has just died, you see, and he’s having a little trouble letting go.  Of little help in dealing are his flaky sister (Caitlin McNamee) and spaced out pal Van (Will LaFrance, aka ‘Linus’, who has switched oral fixations from thumbsucking to smoking pot).  School is little better, where ‘Pigpen’ has cleaned up and reinvented himself as homophobic, germ-fearing jock Matt (Dan DeMarbre), and’ Schroeder’, here called Beethoven (Liam Murphy) is a depressed victim of bullying, finding comfort only in his music.  Tricia and Marcy (Rachel Gilmore and Shelby Fairbairn) are would-be queens of the social scene, and an impending party at Marcy’s place seems to be where all the troubles in the air are going to explode…

This is a pretty harsh, occasionally grim, and very brutally real piece for something based on a newspaper comic strip about children, that takes issues of sexuality, death, sporks, drugs and identity and shoves them quite unflinchingly in your face, using familiar childhood characters to soften the blow.  The nature of the use of the Peanuts gang (names changed just enough onstage to avoid liability, a trick Alan Moore has used to great effect in his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN comix) tends to offer up maybe one or two too many ‘wink,wink’ moments in the script, but it really never gets too bad.  And there’re some dandy performances in this show, lemme say.  Dave Rowan’s haunted, searching CB is very solid throughout, right up to the powerful ending.  And Caitlin McNamee as his sister brings the comedy highlight of the show as she attempts to workshop her one-woman show, in her one-woman drama club.  Good guy Will LaFrance has never been better than as stoner guru Van (especially a lovely scene where he trades repartee with the very funny Shelby Fairbairn and Rachel Gilmore over repressed sexuality).  DeMarbre and Murphy bring good work as Matt and Beethoven, even if the characters themselves are a touch one-note for my taste.  And special shoutout to the mid-show high point, when CB goes to visit Van’s sister (never named in the play, but think Lucy from the strip) in the psych ward/prison where she spends her time now, ever since setting fire to a certain red-headed girls hair.  Mina Delic’s ‘Lucy’ is terrific, knocking out rapid-fire stream of consciousness dialogue with multiple versions of her remembered reality, and never really letting people know which one (if any) is the truth.  It was cool, yo.  As for the play as a whole, I’ll admit that some of the scene transitions could have been smoother, but for the most part director Laura Young put on a great show.

Red.Collective is doing great work down in the SAW, and DOG SEES GOD (one night left as of this posting!) continues a solid lineup of shows.  I’m a little sad to see that BENT has been removed from the upcoming schedule (hey Reddies, what up with that?), but Morris Panych’s 7 STORIES is, I have to say, a very acceptable substitute.  That’s their next show, by the by, at the end of November.   I expect y’all to be there, or else you’ll be missing some cool, youth-driven theatre.  And why would you wanna do that?  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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