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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Accent

Peanuts characters narrate coming-of-age story

College is often a time of major life changes and difficult situations. But with help from the grown-up “Peanuts” gang, students don’t have to face these dark and scary scenarios alone.

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From left, grown-up “Peanuts” character CB (Matt Hays) sits with chain-smoking Van (Eric Dobesh) in a flashback scene of the good times before CB became depressed after his dog’s death. Emily Park/The Ithacan

Standing Room Only Performing Arts Company’s  “Dog Sees God,” written by Bert V. Royal, is a parody of Charles Schulz’s classic comic strip “Peanuts.” The play tells the “teen-angsty tale” of CB, Charlie Brown’s alter ego, played by sophomore Matthew Hays. It also follows the rest of the well-known “Peanuts” gang whose names are changed in this script to avoid copyright infringement.

The play begins with the death of CB’s dog — a reference to Snoopy, though he’s never explicitly named. The rest of the play is told through a series of flashbacks as CB writes a letter to his pen pal, which helps him cope with his loss.

The scenes depict CB’s depression and his issues with gender identity, especially when he falls in love with gay musician Beethoven, played by freshman Brian Kluger.

Hays, who identifies as straight, said he channels the universal feelings of love into his role as CB to portray the questioning character.

“I take the emotions I would have when I’m crushing big time on a girl and I focus those towards Brian,” he said. “When you look at it from the big picture, it’s just two people in love. That’s all that matters.”

Kluger said it was awkward playing a gay male at first, but over time it became easier.

“It’s more different than anyone I’ve ever played, but I had a lot of fun getting to know Beethoven and his personality,” he said. “He has a lot of issues, from bullying to his sexual identity, but I adjusted quickly to it.”

Sophomore Nikki Veit, the show’s director, said the scenes of the play are kept short, with the longest only eight minutes. She said this technique mirrors the story line and emphasizes the purpose of each flashback.

She also said Beethoven’s piano, which is the show’s main prop, remains on stage throughout the play as a constant reminder of the character’s struggle with his sexual orientation. Veit said this was a challenge during blocking, but she was able to get around it using the piano as a table.

Though the play’s characters are based on those of the original comic strip Americans know and love, Veit said she found it easier to direct the show without knowing a lot about “Peanuts.”

She said the costumes for “Dog Sees God” are simple and fit each character’s personality. Beethoven wears a collared shirt and slacks while CB wears a Charlie Brown T-shirt at one point as a tribute to the original character. Veit said the actors use their own wardrobes to make the story more relatable to its student audience.

Apart from the letters CB standing for Charlie Brown, Veit said the original names of “Peanuts” are never referenced, and the characters have outgrown their childish personalities. Among the grown-up gang is pothead Van played by sophomore Eric Dobesh — once the blanket-carrying Linus — and Van’s psychopath sister played by sophomore Bonnie Lawrence — once the power-hungry Lucy.

Veit’s said her reasoning behind choosing “Dog Sees God” was simple — she wanted something a college audience could relate to.

“We’re going to tell a story about the ‘Peanuts’ characters all grown up, and it’s going to be sad, it’s going to be funny, it’s going to be messed up, but at the end of the day, I hope the audience learns something from it,” Veit said.

SROPAC’s artistic director sophomore McKenzie Wall helped Veit choose the play. Wall said she chose “Dog Sees God” specifically because of the issues it addresses.

“It makes you think about life and death — the point of it is to illustrate the changes in life and what we all go through,” she said. “It really relates to college life — there’s always the lingering feeling of, ‘I wish I had one person to reach out to.’”

The play was originally written for a high school audience, but Veit and the cast said the play’s difficult material is not appropriate for that age group.

But, Dobesh said the high school experience is integral to connecting with the play’s material.

“The high school experience is an important part of understanding this show,” he said. “It’s the background knowledge behind it all.”

Dobesh said he enjoyed the relaxed environment of rehearsals.

“It’s almost just like hanging out sometimes while we rehearse,” he said. “It’s cool because the play comes together and we work on scenes, but it’s not draining.”

Hays said working on this show has been easy despite its heavy material, mostly because of the cast’s compatibility.

“The cast’s chemistry is always very light,” Hays said. “Usually, rehearsals aren’t even work. I’ve been in shows where the cast doesn’t click at all, but it’s different in ‘Dog Sees God.’ You feel something.”

If You Go

“Dog Sees God”

When: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Klingenstein Lounge
How much: $5