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Theater review: ‘Dog Sees God’ takes Charlie Brown into modern issues with laughs

“Dog Sees God” is a parody of a certain long-time comic strip. The show by Bert V. Royal opens Friday at UWS. Yoel Yohannes is CB (from top), Timothy Sislo is Beethoven and Hannah Fiedler is Van’s sister. (Photo courtesy of UWS)

There’s a lot of terrific theater in the Twin Ports the next couple of weekends — shows you ought to see — but you’ll deprive yourself of a great show if you don’t make time to cross the bridge to see “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” at the University of Wisconsin–Superior.

Bert V. Royal has taken Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip characters and aged them into teenagers who must deal with drug use, suicide, sex abuse, teen violence, rebellion, sexual relations and identity. The show is billed as an “unauthorized parody,” and offers plenty of laughs even as it tackles sobering issues. The humor is consistently crude and usually bitterly sharp.

Even a much larger theater program, with a much bigger pool of actors, would be hard-pressed to assemble a cast of as uniformly high skill as the one Director Kirsten Hambleton has for this show.

Yoel W. Yohannes is CB, whose dog Snooks has died, prompting him to contemplate some weighty questions. He gets little help from his sister (Nicole Zappitello), who is one minute a Presbyterian, the next a Wiccan. Nor is there usable wisdom to be had from his old pal, Van (Nicholas Isaacson), who has forsaken the pursuit of the Great Pumpkin for the pursuit of the ultimate high.

Pigpen has become Matt (Nick Montecalvo), a homophobic, germophobic jock who constantly exudes menace, and Peppermint Patty now goes by Tricia (Andrew Kirov), who still hangs with the irrepressible Marcy (Alison Haider).

Schroeder is named Beethoven (Timothy Sislo) in the show, and has switched his allegiance from Ludwig Van B to Frédéric Chopin, whose music Sislo performs most credibly.

And Lucy is locked up and receiving Lithium as treatment for pyromania. She set the little red-headed girl’s hair on fire.

Each cast member creates a distinct and convincing character, and all relate to each other with an unflinching honesty. The dialog is perfectly paced and nuanced and precisely interwoven.

These are no longer Schulz’s characters, and they deal with lives their cartoon predecessors could not have imagined, but the show pays tribute. The catchy tune of the television special “A Charley Brown Christmas” plays during a boozy party. In the psychiatric ward, Lucy has set up a booth with a sign reading “Psychiatric Help 5 cigs.” Sue Wedan’s compact, multi-level set, with a bright blue cloud suspended overhead, captures the feel of a high school, where the characters make their various ways toward adulthood. Audra Austin’s lighting design points up the ever-changing moods of adolescents.

It’s worth the drive.

If you go What: “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead”

Where: Manion Fine and Applied Arts Center, University of Wisconsin-Superior, 1805 Catlin Ave.

When: 7:30 p.m. today and April 4-5 and 2 p.m. Sunday and April 6

How much: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and non-UW-Superior students and $2 for UWS students

For information: (715) 394-8380

The review: The comic strip characters are teenagers now, dealing with much tougher issues than losing baseball games, although they can still get laughs.

Paul Brissett is a writer and amateur actor who has appeared in numerous community theater productions.