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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Charlie Brown Grown Up

A simmering end to Splinter Group’s season

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Splinter Group’s final performance of the season is a tour de force. Bert V. Royal’s Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is a humorous but hard-hitting imagining of the “Peanuts” gang as high schoolers, replete with teen pregnancy, drug use, partying and the kind of bullying that can lead to tragedy. The news is not all bad, though. Despite their problems—or perhaps because of them—several of the characters engage in shockingly real struggles to forge their identities and accept one another’s differences.

Under Jake Brockmann’s direction, there is not a single less-than-impeccable performance. As the protagonist CB, Nate Press is a young man on a quest to find out what happens after you die. Snoopy has recently contracted rabies, mutilated Woodstock and been put down. None of the old gang showed up for the funeral, but the questions about life and death prompt deep reflection and exploration from CB. As Beethoven (the Schroeder corollary), Ryan Krueger is stupendous. Now a young piano virtuoso and tortured outcast, his journey with CB—both exploring their sexuality—and standing up to his bully is breathtaking. As the bully, Matt/Pig Pen, Joe Picchetti offers a performance with frightening nuance and realism. Katie Merriman (the Lucy corollary) is fantastically dramatic and believable as CB’s dearest friend, now institutionalized for setting fire to the “red-haired girl’s” locks. Brenna Kempf is the creative heart of the cast as CB’s sister, the single character who seems not to have lost her childhood innocence. Her dramatic interpretation of a caterpillar that wants to become a platypus but winds up a flawed human being forms a perfect frame for the story.

Never heavy handed, the references to Charles Schulz’s classic are nevertheless ever present, from the brief foray into “A Charlie Brown Christmas”-style dancing at a wild weekend party to the final scene in which CB’s pen pal finally responds to him with sound advice and the assurance, now more poignant than ever, “You’re a good man.”

The show runs through June 29, at the Marian Center for Nonprofits, 3211 S. Lake Drive, St. Francis. For tickets, visit splinter-group.org.