Dog Sees God

Dog Sees God logoChildlike innocence often gives way to angst and adolescence, as young people grow and find their own identity in our complicated world. Even the most centered and known personalities are trying on identities and searching for meaning and purpose, let alone finding love and connection. In Dog Sees God, cultural icons go through this process, with surprising and dramatic results.

Dog Sees God actually has a legal disclaimer on the posters and the programs, noting strong language and adult themes, and also stating that the show is not authorized or approved by the Charles M. Schultz Estate. Charles Schultz is the creator and author of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, and while legally there is NO relationship between You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Dog Sees God… the parallels are obvious. Des Moines Young Artists’ Theater are producing both shows beginning next week in what has been nicknamed “The Blockhead Rep.”

Happiness is... Uncertain

Dog Sees God castIn Dog Sees God we meet CB, whose dog has just died of rabies. He starts to question his place in the world, and sees his childhood friends going through their own personal trials as they grow up. Issues from drug use to bullying to sexual identity are examined, in a raw and unflinching manner. Ultimately finding moments of hope, the journey is still a very real and agonizing experience, and innocence is left far behind.

Asher Suski in playing CB in this production. “The best word I can think of to describe how I felt after reading it is shaken,” he says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There’s a lot to unpack, and I wanted to make sure to think through as much as possible. We’re still making new discoveries every night as we work through the piece. I guess that’s how I hope audiences will respond as well. I have no doubt that the show will be impactful to each member of the audience in one way or another. I hope they take the time to think through the journey.”

Mikala Clark plays CB’s little sister. “I remember just being in tears the first time I read through it. The show doesn’t hold back. It’s not going to try and sugar coat the way things are or the way students talk, and I think that’s really important. The script deals with really heavy topics, but it’s not meant to just make people leaving the theatre feel sad. I want the audiences to be able to leave with this sense of hope and possibility even through all the dark things going on.”

Social OrderDog Sees God is definitely the most mature show I’ve done and the most honest. Being a part of the show, I get to engage in topics that are heavy and hard to talk about, with other like-minded people to work on putting together something that will hopefully spark more conversations around the issues.”

The Blockhead Rep

Skylar Manna is a student apprentice working on the scenic design for Dog Sees God. She had worked on a project for her Technical Theatre Production class at Valley High School last year involving the show, and is now working on this year’s production for DMYAT. “I focused a lot on the brokenness in the set. I fleshed out my ideas with the team, and while a lot of them loved the concept, they didn’t take any of my direct ideas. Instead, they found better ways to still incorporate it, whether that’s some broken glass in the dead grass near the grave or some cracks in the floor. A lot of it was ideas bounced off of Alex [Snodgrass, the Scenic Designer] and David [VanCleave, the director] with David being the final judge of everything.”

Charlie Brown DMYAT castAs director, VanCleave has always wanted to do simultaneous productions of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Dog Sees God. “It’s been an interesting and somewhat tricky process because there’s no denying that these characters are representative of the Peanuts gang. At the same time, Dog Sees God is so much more than a parody, and as a team we’ve worked really hard to make CB a living character outside of Charlie Brown, to make Van recognizable as Linus Van Pelt but stand as an honest character on his own… same with Van’s Sister/Lucy, CB’s Sister/Sally Brown, Matt/PigPen, Beethoven/Schroeder, Marcy/Marcie, and Tricia/Peppermint Patty.”

“I have an incredible cast, so it actually became ‘too’ easy. After an early stumble-thru rehearsal, I realized that I accidentally had directed the most depressing show of my career. The cast was so focused – and so damn good at being honest in their performances, it was just too much. The next night we were able to add the parody back in and I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun in rehearsal. Finding a balance has been a wonderful challenge for all of us.”

Labels and Identity

“Labels are a really big part of high school where people try figuring out who they are and who they want to associate with,” says Clark. “As a cast, we talked about the labels that our character would give themselves versus the labels that other characters would give us, and how that would affect the way we see each other in the play. The different issues that the characters struggle with, e.g. drugs, alcohol, bullying, identity, and grief to name a few, are all struggles that students face through all four years of high school.”

Dark CB castSuski focuses on those issues, and looks forward to bringing them to light both in the show and for the audience. “Throughout the show, CB shifts and reassesses his identity in terms of faith, sexuality, and relationships to his peers, among other factors. I believe a search for identity is something that teenagers, especially, are able to relate to. In those years, many toy with the idea of how they fit into the world. It can be challenging at times, so it’s helpful to have a solid system of support.”

He continues. “I think this show is definitely powerful. There are some beautiful and haunting moments taking shape. However, we’ve also been working to find the humor in the show. There’s a whole lot of moments in the script that are absolutely hilarious. We’ve been trying to allow these moments to happen without sacrificing the overlying honesty of the text.”

Dog Sees God is presented by Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre beginning February 16 (with a post-show discussion after the final show on February 23). Shows are in the Stoner Studio Theatre at the Civic Center (as are performances of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, running in repertory and beginning February 15). Tickets for both shows are available from the DMYAT website, the Civic Center website, or the Civic Center box office.

Photos by Brandon James Photography. Graphic Design by Laura Jordan. Courtesy of Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre.

David VanCleave Des Moines Young Artists' Theatre Asher Suski Mikala Clark Skylar Manna