Quick: You’re writing a play about the characters from Peanuts as teenagers. How do you begin? If you answered, “With a monologue delivered by a shell-shocked Charlie Brown about the bloody death of a rabies-stricken Snoopy,” you shouldn’t be allowed to continue writing your script. And if the rest of the play features a pothead Linus tricking Sally into giving him head, and a homophobic, obsessive-compulsive Pigpen, you should be forced to read all 50 sublime years of Peanuts—17,897 hand-drawn strips—from end to end before you’re allowed access to a word-processing program ever again. Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God has the depth of an after-school special and the vapid characterization of a B-movie teen sex comedy. It vacillates between those two poles—shame-faced moralizing and dumb, horny naughtiness—and never once manages to find sure footing.
When you’re working from a shitty script, there’s not much hope for the production, but let’s take a moment to appreciate the positives: The temporarily homeless Balagan Theatre (they’ll be moving into their new home at the Erickson Theater on Harvard and Pine in January) makes great use of ACT’s new Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space, adding three levels to the tiny cabaret stage and keeping the action moving all around the theater. And Megan Ahiers’s brief turn as Lucy—a kind of Hannibal Lecter figure locked away for pyromania—is way better than the material she’s been handed. Libby Barnard manages to find the humanity in her misguided Sally, too, flitting through identities in every scene while layering the cheesy sincerity with urgent desperation.
But you just can’t spin gold out of shit. What would have felt shocking to an eighth grader in 1994 feels boring and played-out today. Hopefully Balagan will take a pass on the next infantile production—Garfield’s valiant battle with feline leukemia, perhaps? The Incestuous Family Circus?—that crawls from the funny pages.