Dog Sees God: Confessions Of A Teenage Blockhead

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

29/09/2010 - 09/10/2010

Production Details

Didn’t fit in growing up? Well, neither do they…

CB’s dog is dead, his sister has gone goth, his best friend is too burnt out to provide any coherent speculation and his ex-girlfriend has recently been institutionalised. But a chance meeting with an artistic kid sets in motion a friendship that will push teen angst to the very limits.

Based on Charles M. Schulz’s iconic Peanuts comic strip, this is a black comedy about drug use…(Mr Marmalade, Sunday Roast) 

September 28 – October 9
at 8:00pm
The Basement
/ 361 1000
Tickets – $20 / $16 / Groups 6+ $15
Tuesday 28th Preview – all tickets $15  

CB - Byron Coll
CB's Sister - Sophie Henderson
Beethoven - Todd Emerson
Matt - Barnie Duncan
Tricia - Chelsie Preston-Crayford
Marcy - Morgana O'Reilly
Van - Sam Bunkall
Van's Sister - Natalie Medlock

Director - Sophie Roberts
Lighting Design - Tim Bell
Costume Design - Shian Perawiti
Sound Design/Composition - Byron Coll
Set Design - Sophie Roberts and Martyn Wood
Publicity Photography - Roy Emerson  
Production Photography - Dan Roberts
Publicity - Jo Kelly @ Elephant
Poster/Flier Design -Gareth Williams @ Edgar St
Produced by Martyn Wood for The Moving Theatre Company

The tone shifts from stupid to angry to sexual to sad, like you’re inside of a teenager’s hormonally charged body

Review by Lillian Richards 30th Sep 2010

I haven’t read much of the Peanuts cartoons that this play spring-boards off; just enough to appreciate the references, clever and loaded as they are. If you’re like me don’t be deterred, it doesn’t slow you down. It’s not a rewriting or a bombardment of in-jokes you’ll fail to reference.

It is in fact a supremely clever, humiliating and genuine look at teenage loserdom, lostness, despair and hope. A sublime selection of teenage torments, misconceptions and parodies that lets you laugh but doesn’t fail to make you feel.

The play was originally written for the NY Fringe Festival by Bert V. Royal and it’s utterly American in its extremities, its nuances and tributes to a smallness of mind. Grappling as it does with love, lust, fear, anger, repression and a failure to understand the ‘who’ of who you are in a world of otherness and inescapable cruelty. There are dead dogs as references for self, a neediness to know what comes after death … Teenage life as it is – so horribly mean and surreal. This isn’t a subtle trope but an important one none-the-less.

Produced by The Moving Theatre Company (good name; good names are important), this version of a fine script is brought to hyper reality by a cast of extremely talented actors, each engrossing in their own way and each with a firm yet loving grasp on their character, or rather the stereotype, that they are bringing to life. And live it does.

Bryon Coll plays the main protagonist, our neatly nicknamed CB (the play’s never been approved by the Schultz estate, so all names have been ‘de plumed’ but it’s pretty clear who is the teenage version of whom). Coll does awkward and sweet, engaging and expressive so well that he may as well have been the graphic novel brought to life. His character’s developments and confusions require a quiet energy that beams off Coll in little looks and reserved gestures. He is a well-made device, a believable centrifugal force.

Sophie Henderson plays CB’s sister in the intentionally clichéd role of Goth and Wiccan; of misunderstood over-actor. Henderson has an energy about her that borders on theatrical in the pejorative but which she always keeps in check, just enough to make you fall in love with her, to believe and care for her. A wonderful piece of performance art sees her metamorphose into a platypus and then unwillingly high tail it up the evolutionary chain to become human where she questions the worth of her so called assent. This is a great opportunity for Henderson to indulge in her theatrical mannerisms but to make fun as much as she makes a point. 

I always love watching Todd Emerson, I think that he is a truly talented actor, one with grace and style, who becomes rather than pretends (whatever authenticity in acting is, oxymoron or not, I think maybe I see it when I watch him). Playing Beethoven, the most beleaguered and abused boy, Emerson politely displays anguish and distain. He captures that fear of being different and the wavering conviction that such a difference is a gift, if only it can survive high school.

Beethoven’s tormentor Matt is played by Barnie Duncan with a heavy, troubled roughness that dips between boring and spot on. Called upon as he is to play the stereotype of the feared and the reverenced, he manages to imbue this character with a level of humanity and understandable conflict, which isn’t an easy thing to do.

And then there are the mean girls who are wonderfully called upon to decry the lameness of high school movies, always insisting on the scene where they do the ubiquitous ‘lunch hall table assessment’: “and that’s the dorks table, those are the Lesbos” etc. Oh the irony, as Tricia (Chelsie Preston-Crayford) and Marcy (Morgana O’Reilly) are so clearly the characters doing the pigeonholing!

Preston-Crayford does bitch with character and is a spectacular drunk; her eye-rolling and mirth are standard insecure dick-head material and she holds her own against O’Reilly, who has this sort of preternatural ease in her own body that almost sees her come out of it. So massive is her energy, so unique her little quirks, that she has the audience in fits with mere intimations. O’Reilly can bring a crowd to their knees. But you know when you’re there, she’ll help you back up. Her warmth comes across which, when playing a bitch, really helps sell the humanity of her character (’cause we’re all just misunderstood, really). 

The pot smoking bystander, weak and whacked out, too far into the future on drugs, is Dan, played by Sam Bunkall. It could be a pretty weightless role for his light participation in plot but Bunkall drafts an observer, a believably stoned prop, who delivers what lines he does have with a playful irreverence that makes him worthwhile. 

I don’t say this lightly but my favourite scene involves a mental patient. Van’s sister, played by Natalie Medlock dressed in nothing except a hospital gown (applaud the commitment to realism), has lit some innocents hair on fire and is sent to the infirmary to be referenced mainly without being on stage. But when she does appear – Oh my! Medlock is so viscerally and unsettlingly unbalanced in her portrayal that she approaches the real problem we have with the mentally ill: are they really unwell or are they just too brilliant to bear?

Her commitment to the role isn’t unnerving, because that would mean it was, in a sense, unpleasant and it’s not at all clichéd, although the role of the ‘unwell upstairs’ is one we see often. There is a strangely beguiling unease to her delivery, like she’s unhinged but it’s impossible to tell if she is indeed unfit for ‘normal’ life or just unwilling. Anyone who has met a person of dubious mental health understands the tightrope they walk, the trickery, the smoke and mirrors they present, like you’re a puppet and they’re above you somewhere pulling at your strings. I could have watched Medlock’s crazy lady enactment for hours, just as long as she kept her distance.

Because this is an all American play, full of homophobia and stonewashed denim, we’re treated to American accents and where I would normally be saying this sarcastically, I actually think these actors do a really good job of going overboard when necessary and maintaining reasonable believability when not.

Which I guess puts me face to face with what was outstanding direction by Sophie Roberts. The movements are clever and lively without making you feel dizzy, the tone shifts from stupid to angry to sexual to sad, like you’re inside of a teenager’s hormonally charged body.

The set (designed by Sophie Roberts and Martyn Wood) enables all this, like a mother’s helping hand. It is visually impressive, referential of the cartoon and a high school, and with wonderful use of atypical colour. This is matched by the costume design (Shian Perawiti) that doles out mid-drifts and leather, gothic floor length gowns and team jackets. It is a sartorial explosion that is both amusing and lovely to watch.

My only criticism, having been in the front row, is that I didn’t know where to look when the actors strayed further than a metre apart, but you know, people cope during tennis matches so suck it up I guess.

Go. It’s really f*cking good. Entertaining without being too pithy and meaningful without being sickly sweet.
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claire van beek October 13th, 2010

 Ah yes I agree with every word! I really think that the directing and acting was so good that it almost upstood the writing! The acting was just so, so good. What talent. Thank you for such a poignant production.

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