Volume 74, Number 20 | September 15 - 21 , 2004

Theater


“Dog Sees God”
The Soho Playhouse
15 Vandam St.
Sept. 8-19, Wed-Fri @ 8
Sat @ 3 and 8; Sun @ 3 and 7
212-239-6200.

Fringe winner back for another run

By Davida Singer

photo by: Dixie Sheridan

Maichael Gladis & Benjamin Schrader in Dog Sees God.

In case you missed the “best overall production” winner at last month’s Fringe Festival, “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” is back for a limited run at the Soho Playhouse. The raunchy, dark comedy - more than reminiscent of Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” - was written by casting director and first time playwright, Bert V. Royal.

“I majored in theater in Florida, though I couldn’t really act,” says Royal, 26. “But I knew good acting, so I became a casting director. Working with actors is amazing because they entertain me. They’re quirky, funny and smart. I moved up here six years ago, and I’ve been casting all over the place for T.V., film and theater, including a stint as Associate Director for “Third Watch.”

Royal left a job in November because he decided to feed a longstanding craving to write. He spent a month pondering subject matter, and finally came up with an idea to take a group of beloved cartoon characters and do an unauthorized parody on them.

“I took the idea and ran with it,” he reports. “It was more a writing exercise-how to develop situations. Then I got into the characters themselves. I’ve always been a big comic strip and animation fan, so it’s also homage to a brilliant cartoonist. This is a comedy, a black one, but with a bit of serious tone to it. It’s definitely not for children, and has some very earthy language throughout.”

The plot of “Dog Sees God” finds eight high school students dealing with the whole spectrum of teen angst, from drug use, to sex, to questions of identity. According to Royal, it’s about a popular kid who reaches out to a troubled peer and ends up sparking a romance between the two. This spirals into disaster, touching on homophobia and “the dangers of putting sexuality in a high school setting.”

“I think it’s absolutely relevant,” says Royal. “The country is making great strides to accept homosexuality in jobs, etc., but the gay marriage situation has taken one step back. I think it confuses a lot of people. It is a political play and I did want to teach a lesson about acceptance. The number one thing would be that, not just for teens, but everyone. The danger of not accepting leads to violence and death, and lots that the source material for this piece shouldn’t be about.”

The original production of “Dog Sees God” at the Fringe, which played to packed houses and standing ovations, was produced by Sorrel Tomlinson who “took it under her wing”, and with Royal, co-founded File 14 Productions. This new run has kept the cast of eight, but added lighting designer, Michael Boll, who, the writer says, “has given the play an unexpected flair.” There’s also original music by Tom Kitt and a “very cartoonish”, minimal set.

“My style of writing is very honest” Royal explains. “I hear things from friends when they go to dark places, and I’m always there to write them down. I don’t mince words here. For example, the play starts with the death of the hero’s dog, and he writes to his pen pal, ‘When my dog died, that was when my rain cloud came back and everything went to hell.’ I’d like people to laugh their heads off, but also think about what they laughed at and why. It’s a profane piece, and I’m even offended by my own writing. But I put the profanity there to push buttons. And somehow that seems to deeply touch them as well.”

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