“Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” debuted at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival as a 60 minute one act, and flew to off Broadway that same year to become an overnight midnight special. It went on to win the GLAAD MEDIA AWARD for Best Off-Off Broadway Play, and this marks the first ever full-length play presented by LCTC.
The icon term “blockhead” is the first clue to Royal’s subtext of his version of CB transforms Charles M. Schulz’s comic-strip kids into angst-filled “Good grief” tragedies. Clever director Chris Maltby handles Royal’s script deftly with the frequent dark humor and letting his excellent cast find the key personality qualities of their characters. The set and costume designer, Finn Ware even brings to mind the simple style of Schulz’s drawings: A set that features the iconic Charlie Brown T shirt emblem and prime colors on each of the teens, reminiscent of a comic strip’s square panels. The drug-taking, foul-mouthed, promiscuous teenagers are well played by a talented company that is well cast by Maltby.
A young man, dressed in a high school block jacket, deals with the lose of his dog as he begins to question the existence of an afterlife. He is still the same sad sack we remember, but he is now called CB. Played by the splendid Michael Conner he brings all the stress we remember of the young blockhead.
His friends Van (Linus),Matt (Pig Pen), Tricia (Peppermint Patty) and Marcy (Marcie) are potheads, homophobes and vacuous possible bullies. Beethoven (Schroeder) played by the stunning Ryan Engstrom has been ousted from the group and left a vulnerable outcast. CB’s sister (Sally) is a wannabe Wiccan, Goth or what ever mood she is in, is played by the very likable Val Garrahan. His best femme fatale, Lucy, is locked away at a youth asylum for pyromania. This is no match for any Netflix “Thirteen Reasons” series, these young millennials that surround CB are real.
Playwright Royal has done more that is right than wrong. He cleverly captures the essence of Schulz’s characters: Marcie’s blandness, Sally’s ever changing obsessions. And, like Schulz did, he addresses the issues of the times in this case coming out as gay and school bullying. Director Maltby guides his keen cast to mostly right decisions. Ellan Dunphy is a twitchy yet strong, high-octane standout as the parody version of Lucy. Val Garrahan is appropriately belligerent as the equivalent of Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally who changes her theme day to day. The funny and stylistic Ryan Whitlock fills in the underwritten Linus-like role with a winning goofy stoner personality dressed in red tones and wearing converse and gone is his stinky blanket.
The handsome dynamic Geoffrey Malveaus as Matt is believable with the repetitive dialogue dumped on his villain character, but successfully makes the most of the humorous bits that lighten his heavy task. His body language and anger on stage is well executed. Engstrom’s quiet introspection is excellent and suits his musician character, and is perfect as the bullied gay teen. And it’s a not an insult to say the superb Conner is a bit colorless as the protagonist. Wishy-washy Charlie Brown would be proud.
I don’t want to reveal much of the drama in this 90 minute play – but it hits home to every teenage dark edge, from child molestation, drug abuse and teen suicide. The play has a plot, that is funny but from my perspective very dark. It is also a love story between two boys possibly three, all unsure of their sexuality, the two embark on a tentative relationship to the shock and horror of their friends. Unfortunately, even a 16 year old Charlie Brown can’t catch a break.
CB’s sister, Garrahan enacts a fantasy, one-woman show about a caterpillar’s desire to be a platypus that is both hilarious and bewitchingly bizarre. As Beethoven, Engstrom manages to transform what could have been a performance of weakness and victimization into a nuanced portrait of someone who, like the rest, is intensely uncertain about his life. The story of “Dog Sees God,” deals with challenging material like homophobia, death and suicide, that requires an emotional depth that Maltby brings to the Sheldon stage. This production does not go for cheap caricature but a real take on teen issues.
The other players include: as Marcy the frisky Madison Worthington and the bold Isabel Siragua is Tricia. Fight choreographer, Kyle McReddie, kept the boys in step with their tumbles and rough housing. The light design by Rita Long and Axia Staniotes creates that comic strip feel on Finn Wares’ bright set on the Sheldon’s basement black box stage. Beethoven’s costume was the best with his sweaters and button up shirts designed by both Wares and Isabel Siragusa. After a biting bit about the burning of the famous blanket, Van (Whitlock) remarks, “We all have to let go of things from our childhood.” DOG SEES GOD presents the opposite, it doesn’t let go or disrespect childhood. It embraces the care, compassion that makes “Peanuts” timeless. This is a GO SEE and one of LCTC shinning examples of how important this theatre company has become in the Bay Area Theatre Community.