I never really wanted to grow up. Once I started middle school, though, I knew I had no choice. During my first week in sixth grade, I saw a familiar guy, a seventh grader whom I’d last seen in elementary school. Back then, I’d been in fourth grade and he’d been in fifth. Since then, he’d changed: his voice was deeper now, and he exuded testosterone. It overpowered me. I’d entered a new world, and I couldn’t go back, no matter how much I wanted to.
Last night Matt and I saw Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, a parody of the Peanuts gang as teenagers, which recently ran at the New York International Fringe Festival. I was expecting a musical comedy, but it wasn’t a musical, and despite some truly hysterical moments, the show turned out to be quite serious. It’s rare that a show moves me as much as this one did.
The beginning is unexpectedly depressing. Charlie Brown (or “C.B.” as he’s known in this show; most of the characters have been renamed) comes out on stage to tell us that his dog has just died. He contracted rabies and tore his friend, a little yellow bird, to shreds, so he had to be put to sleep.
It continues from there. Linus has grown into a pot-smoking Buddhist; Sally is a black-clad Wiccan; Peppermint Patty and Marcie are the school sluts; Lucy’s in jail for committing arson; Pigpen has become a germophobic, homophobic jock; and, most poignantly of all, Schroeder has grown into a sexually confused loner who still seeks solace in his piano. (He’s played heartbreakingly by Benjamin Schrader.)
It all made me sad. I grew up with the Peanuts gang. I read the comics and watched the TV specials. I both saw and performed in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” When Charles Schulz died a few years ago, I was unexpectedly moved to tears. So watching this show is like when you get to high school and you realize that all the kids you knew back in elementary school have changed. I always tried hard to be a good kid, and one day I realized that I was the only one still doing so while all my peers had moved on and begun breaking all the rules — smoking, drinking, having sex. They’d comfortably made the transition, while I hadn’t. When I realized this, my paradigm was shattered. I had no idea what I was supposed to do anymore, or whom I was supposed to listen to.
What I didn’t realize is that my peers were as insecure as I was. I’d coped by clinging to my old self, while some of them had coped by doing the opposite, rejecting who they’d once been — just like Pigpen, who now carries around a bottle of antibacterial hand-cleanser and becomes enraged when anyone tries to call him by his childhood nickname. (Now he’s known as Matt.)
In this show we learn that even Charlie Brown — poor unlucky Charlie Brown, with whom I’d always greatly identified — has changed. It turns out that he dated one of the female characters at one point, and they even had sex. My childhood self is troubled by that.
But it turns out that C.B. remains the moral center of the Peanuts universe. Even though his choices wind up leading to tragedy, those choices arise from the goodness and bigness of his heart.
Dog Sees God runs only until next Sunday, September 19, and if you’re in town, I highly recommend that you see it. The names may have been changed, but you can’t protect the innocent indefinitely.