Dog Sees God (Spoiler Alert)
This week, the last two nights to be specific, my dear friend, The Actor, celebrated the run of his senior show. Because he one of his majors is theater, his capstone project was to direct a play. His choice was the play by Bert V. Royal entitled “Dog Sees God.”
The show is an evocative piece that asks the viewer to challenge the way things are and make the world a better place. Dog Sees God takes the infamous Peanuts characters of our childhood and throws them into adolescence. This time, Charlie Brown and the gang are in high school and Snoopy has just died. The characters partake in all manner of vile behavior from using drugs and alcohol and using offensive language to bullying that wrenches at the gut of the viewer.
Fair warning, this show is not for the faint of heart. It forces the audience to step into the worst experiences a young person faces, perhaps on a daily basis, perhaps on rare occasions. Some of the toughest subjects that young people deal with are thrown into the mix. The point is to show just how far from butterflies and rainbows life is for some kids. Kids are faced with really difficult situations, asked to make tough decisions, tempted and pulled in multiple directions, forsaken by adults, and still asked to come out on top. This show really makes you think about how hard that is.
The show also makes you reflect on how many times you were the person who stood idly by while someone was bullied, how many times did you make a bad decision in order to fit in. What decisions have you made, or are making, in your life that could be devastating to you or to someone else? Yeah, you may leave the theater feeling really sh*tty about yourself, but that’s the point. We cannot make a change if we do not face how bad things have become.
Dog Sees God is difficult and offensive, but it is also beautiful and meaningful. It is a show that doesn’t suggest change, it outright demands it!
This show touched me in particular, because I was someone who was bullied relentlessly in school. So much so that by the time I reached the 3rd grade my parents had pulled me out of public school to be home-schooled, because my clothes were being torn to the point of indecency on the bus and I would come home bloodied and bruised. The first few years after I went back to public school in the 8th grade were not much better and like Beethoven I attempted to take my own life. I think God every day that I survived, but in the show, Beethoven doesn’t.
This show hit so close to home that I cried for at least the last 20 minutes of the show, through the talk-back, and for part of the ride back to campus. It saddens me to the deepest depths that we live in a society where the kind of behavior that can lead to a child’s death is thought of as “character building.” It sucks that it wasn’t just me. It’s a problem so basic within our culture that this play had to be written to make us question it.
And question it we did. This play faced an outbreak of controversy almost immediately after rehearsals began. A student on campus found the show to be offensive and so exercised her right to petition the ban of the show. To an extent, her goal was achieved. The compromise was that the show would not be allowed to be performed on campus. The Actor had to find a new performance space and ended up at the Berlin Cafe in CoMo. When The Roommate told me it was a small space, I could not have prepared myself for just how small. Last night when we arrived, there were 54 chairs in the house, the stage was practically in our laps, and we were finding spaces for people as they poured in.
In the end, I think it worked in The Actor’s favor. Being physically close to the actors helped me, as a viewer, to connect and feel like I was watching real life play out before my eyes. And, in reality, the controversy that lasted for so long was free publicity. By the time posters went up last week, everyone knew what the show was. Honestly, I think there was a better turn out, despite the conditions surrounding the performance, than there would have been if it had been performed on campus as scheduled.
The space also worked really well for the talk-back. At the end of the show, The Actor opened the floor for conversation between the actors and the audience members. This was exactly the kind of thing Royal was looking for, because it was the beginning of discourse on what was wrong about what happened in the show and why exactly it was wrong.
It is wrong to abandon young adults, teenagers, to make hard decisions alone, to feel unloved and unwanted, during the most influential and fragile years of their young lives. It is wrong to bully and torment another person and to become so immune to it that you truly believe it’s just all fun and games. It is wrong to idly watch as the people around you destroy the lives of themselves and their “friends.” And it is especially wrong that a child who is different than the rest of the crowd feels so alone and so hated that he took his own life.
I applaud the playwright and I applaud the cast and crew. Most of all, I applaud my friend, The Actor. Thank you for all you do, all you have done, and all you will continue to do through this beautiful and heart-wrenching work of art. Thank you for going through with this no matter how ugly and difficult it got. Thank you for making the choice to stand up for me and for many others after me. You can’t know what it means to me that people are beginning to take notice.