Watching InnerMission Productions' Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead brings to mind a news story from last January. Phoebe Prince, you'll recall, was the Irish immigrant who fatally hanged herself following a reported taunting spree at a Massachusetts high school—celebrating a community's differences is one thing, but a band of feral monkeys allegedly took this party to another level, with Phoebe the guest of honor.---
A lot of the play's setting isn't at all like the Prince incident (it's actually designed as a parody, capturing the Peanuts comic strip characters as teens), but its intent sparks the young woman's tragic memory. And in the end, it happens to be very well done.
Beethoven (Jonathan Hammond), the Schroeder of the piece, is his school's victim of choice. Everybody spots him as gay because he keeps to himself, plays piano like the prodigy he is, loves Chopin and talks with a lisp. He'll die by his own hand, but not before his friend CB (an excellent Brendan Cavalier as Charlie Brown's alter-ego) plants a very public kiss on him and later seals the deal with a roll in the hay.
The evil genie's out of the bottle now. Youthful vanity consumes the crowd, morphing into cruelty amid a darkly hilarious scene with Van's Sister (Katie Harroff). She's author Bert V. Royal's answer to the tartly Lucy van Pelt—and here, she's been carted to a tiny rubber room for setting the Little Red-Haired Girl's head on fire. Her eyes reflect the effects from her meds, but the rage behind them is unmistakable.
Director Kym Pappas spends all day exploiting nuances like that, with each character stoking the other's flames, subtly one minute and brazenly the next. Except for the kids' hints of regret at the end, Pappas has whipped Charlie's family and friends into the dysfunctional lot we once may have feared they'd become. In another life, they would have set on Phoebe with equal, explosive vengeance.
High-school teachers should arrange field trips to this show or invite InnerMission to mount it at their facilities, but only if they promise to shut up once it's over—today's kids will pick up on the negative message without any big fat Q&A from some big fat adult. That's because they're largely and uncommonly honest, curious, decent human beings, swimming against the tide in a valiant attempt to find their place.
For all its vicious humor, Dog Sees God eloquently decries the harmful side effects of the trying times in their lives. And amid its insight, InnerMission again recognizes live performance for the invaluable public servant it is.
This review is based on the matinée production of June 6. Dog Sees God runs through June 27 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights. $15-$20. innermissionproductions.org