The Peanuts gang is all grown up, and the neighborhood has a lot more shadows than it used to.
Instructor of theater Jerry Jay Cranford, aided by an academic excellence award grant, is presenting “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” tonight through Saturday. Referred to as an “unauthorized parody,” the play by Bert V. Royal imagines all the Peanuts characters as teenagers and explores the angst, depression, anger and hope that comes with growing up.
Auditions for “Dog Sees God,” held in the middle of the semester, were open only to students not involved in any other K-State theater spring season production.
“It’s been great to work with a group of actors that we don’t get to see on stage often and they’re doing a great job,” Cranford said. “I couldn’t ask for a better cast.”
Theater patrons should be warned that “Dog Sees God” features the Peanuts characters dealing with much heavier situations than kicking footballs and dirty blankets. The play includes strong language and sexual situations, among other issues that Cranford felt would be relevant to the actors and the audience.
“The story begins with Snoopy’s death and Charlie Brown looking, searching, for the meaning in or behind death,” Cranford said.
Premiering professionally and winning Best Overall Production at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival, the show has maintained strong regional performance as it approaches its 10-year anniversary. “Dog Sees God” playwright Royal also worked on “Easy A,” and the edgier Peanuts play does carry hints of the same modern humor.
“The New York Times compared it to an extended SNL skit,” Cranford said. “It’s the idea of taking the Peanuts characters and putting them in adult situations.”
Much of the cast and crew for the show were generated completely by student interest. The process of gathering a design team and crew, setting up auditions and casting all took place in two weeks.
“I hope it finds a crowd because it was a quick process, from the letter saying that I received the award to the first rehearsal date was two weeks,” Cranford said. “It’s been great to feature original student work, like Matt Harrison (junior in mass communications), who made an original score we’re using.”
Cranford applied for grant money to move forward with the project, on which the show depended on. For a moment, the project looked as if it would not come together.
“I had thought, ‘Oh well, it’s not going to happen,’” Cranford said. “So I was thrilled and honestly shocked when I got the letter.”
Working with a cast of actors on capturing the characters they already know and love was an experience Cranford said he considered valuable. The characters themselves are not carbon copies of their comic counterparts, but will be recognizable.
“The characters don’t go by their original names, due to licensing issues, but you know instantly who they are,” Cranford said. “What I said to them while we were talking through character development was that, ‘We know these characters, we have their home movies. We know what it was like for them at Christmas and Thanksgiving.’”
The character traits that audiences around the world have come to love about the Peanuts do come back to haunt them.
“The things that were a part of each character’s makeup have gone wrong,” Cranford said. “For example, Lucy is the psychiatrist who’s always offering advice, and now she can’t deal with her own problems. It shows that these happy, normal children are not healthy as adults, and that’s happening in our society more and more.”
There’s a method to the childhood-shaking madness, according to Cranford, and the timing is a part of the plan as well.
“I think it’s brilliant to use the Peanuts characters to send these messages, because there’s a comfort in knowing their histories,” Cranford said.
“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” opens today and plays through Saturday, all at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $4 at the door, cash only.
“The important part isn’t that they’re the Peanuts,” Cranford said. “That’s the hook. What it’s about is kids dealing with these horrible issues. Unfortunately, even after 10 years, this is still an important, relevant piece.”