Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Charlie Brown: No longer a clown

The kids from "Peanuts" have been taking it on the chin a lot lately, particularly at the hands of "The Family Guy," mostly notably when everybody's favorite blockhead shows up at a Peanuts reunion with a skanky crackwhore. He's got tats, multiple piercings and, more significantly, a major habit. Which is the reason that Snoopy isn't there with him. Old Chuck apparently supplied the drugs that did in both Snoopy and Woodstock. In other bits, we find out that Marcy and Peppermint Patty are lovers. No surprise there, really. That irritating Lucy van Pelt gets a well-deserved boot in the butt by both Peter and Lois in separate episodes when she tries to pull the football away at the last minute. We also learn the real cause of Violet's bladder infections, don't we, Pigpen? But Bert V. Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," a so-called "unauthorized parody" that, word of warning, probably requires a longer attention span than "Family Guy" bits, imagines the iconic characters of Charles M. Schultz as students in high school, although the names have been changed to protect the innocent — or, at least, to protect the authors from copyright lawsuits. 
 The show, which Neptune Sushi will stage at the Actors Studio next month, takes place a decade after the fifty or so years the old Peanuts crew had remained mired in third grade. Things have changed. Deep down, old Chuckles is still sad and lonely, and — hold on to your hats, he's popular. He's faking it. He's not half as cool as he's been pretending to be, but that's okay. It's better, no doubt, to be loved for who you are, but, from his perspective, it's feels good when the abuse stops, even if you're not exactly who people think you are. He's never had much luck with the Little Red Haired Girl. She disappeared after Lucy set her hair on fire. Charlie visits her in the psychiatric hospital every now and then. Schroeder, er, Beethoven, as he is called in the current production, is the guy taking the brunt of the abuse these days. He's being hassled for being gay. He's not even sure he's gay, being a virgin and all.  No matter. And Snoopy is ... well, there's no easy way to say this, dead. Complications of rabies. Someone didn't get him the shots he needed, you blockhead. Charlie put him down not long before the gang gets together. The tragedy sends him on a search for answers and meaning in his life.

Nope, this is not your Mom and Dad's "Peanuts." And Neptune Sushi artistic director Aaron Foss knows he's going to alienate a few people along the way, saddling beloved cartoon characters with real-life problems, but he's not all that worried about it. "I think it's funny," he says. People who feel drawn to the fake idyll of the classic comic can always buy the books and watch the television specials or try to find a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." Foss wanted something  little edgier, like the “The Eight: The Reindeer Chronicles,”  a tale of Christmas corruption, inter-species sexual harassment and a possible criminal cover-up, which Neptune Sushi, his production company staged at the Actors Studio two years ago. A friend told him about "Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" last year. He ordered the script and was blown away by it. "I like more offbeat shows," he says. "There's so much traditional theater being performed and that's great." But he's hoping that with shows like this, or, say, "The Shape of Things," which drags Shaw's "Pygmalion" kicking and screaming into the modern era, get other people who might not go out to see a show,  off their seats and into the seat. Which is one of the reasons the company is considering an adaptation of "Cannibal! The Musical," a seriously offbeat — and off-putting — film by South Park co-creator Trey Parker that is loosely based on the so-called Donner Party, a group of 19th-century pioneers who were snowbound and had to resort to cannibalism to survive, as its next project. We'll see.

And while at first blush
"Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" may seem rude and crude and insensitive, it's not, especially. There are actual positive things to say about the show: That it's funny, of course. That it examines many hot-button issues facing kids today, like bullying and school violence, drug use, identity, eating disorders and sexual relationships. And it will benefit the Trevor Project, a 24-hour toll-free national hotline for gay and questioning youth.
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Neptune Sushi stages Bert V. Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead" at 8 p.m. May 13 and 14, and at 3 p.m. May 14 and 15 at The Actors Studio, the Tannery, 50 Water St. Mill #1, Studio #5. The cast includes Amesbury resident Hannah Heckman-McKenna, as well as Dylan Gamblin, Audrey Claire Johnson, Victoria Hogan, Thomas Francis Shamma, Ryan Clark, Marc Pelletier and Sarah Argenbright. Aaron Foss directs. Tickets are $14 and will be available at the door 30 minutes prior to the show or can be reserved by calling 978-465-1229. Proceeds benefit the Trevor Project, a 24-hour toll-free national hotline for gay and questioning youth. Seating is limited and reservations are recommended for large groups. Pictured are Sarah Argenbright, Dylan Gamblin, and Hannah Heckman-McKenna, who play Lucy, CB, and Sally.


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