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Carroll student director's effort deals with no small Peanuts in Waukesha play

New theater company up and running with student director

Aug. 26, 2014

Negotiating the teenage years is like navigating a mine field — there are so many opportunities for disaster.

In "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," directed by Carroll University student Ryan Albrechtson, we see four boys and five girls dealing with a smorgasbord of teen issues — mostly sexuality, but also drugs, drinking, spirituality, eating disorders, violence, morality and suicide.

The show is presented by the newly created Outskirts Theatre Company, and Carroll University's Theatre & Arts Management Program, at the Otteson Theatre on the campus.

The characters are raw and uncensored. We see and hear exactly what they are thinking at their impulsive worst. There are no adults to temper their words or actions, just like in the comic strip "Peanuts," which is no coincidence. That's because the characters are supposed to be the teenage versions of Charles M. Schulz's comic characters. But as teenagers, these adorable grade-schoolers have lost all their charm and stepped into just about everything that can go wrong during high school.

CB, who is supposed to be the Charlie Brown character, opens the show after his dog has had to be put down because he killed a bird and also had rabies. Perhaps these are Snoopy and Woodstock.

CB becomes obsessed with death and tries to sort it out by talking to his Sister (the "Peanuts" Sally character) and friends Van (Linus), Matt (Pig-Pen) and Beethoven (Schroeder).

CB's Sister (Sally in the "Peanuts" comic) is a free spirit and seems to want to escape life.

Van, a pothead who smoked his blanket, tells CB, "Nirvana is the f---in' way to go."

Matt, a germaphobe and homophobe, has also got anger issues.

Beethoven is a gifted pianist who is bullied by his classmates because he is viewed as gay. CB, who has teased Beethoven in the past, finds he is strangely attracted to Beethoven and kisses him.

CB later kisses Beethoven publicly, which confuses not only Beethoven but CB's friends and leads to a chain of reactions ending in tragedy.

Other "Peanuts" characters that appear are Van's Sister (Lucy), a pyromaniac in prison for setting The Red-haired Girl's hair on fire, as well as Tricia (Peppermint Patty) and Marcy (Marcie), best friends who think they're popular and who criticize classmates and teachers.

These are outrageous characters, who have strong opinions about things that matter and sometimes things that don't — as shown by Van's diatribe about Mexican pizza and Tricia's rant about sporks (spoon-fork combos).

Albrechtson's cast — mostly Carroll students — have nailed their characters, who are sometimes so big and bold they overfill the black box at Otteson Theatre.

As CB, Jake Konrath has a heavy load and carries it well. His character represents a whole host of teen ills. CB passes through a gauntlet of friends to try to make sense of his unraveling world.

I especially like the way Konrath and Dyllan Brown, who played Beethoven, handle the sensitive nature of their characters in a very mature way.

Carly Sauer and Sarah Joers as Tricia and Marcy, respectively, provide lots of comedy to their exaggerated characters, who seem to be traveling through their teen years with nary a sensible thought in their heads. Their joined-at-the-hip friendship is really a hoot.

Taylor Burzynski as Matt and Ellis Sherman as Van also handle their quirky roles well as do Madeline Conway as CB's Sister and Francesca Steitz as Van's Sister. Their characters are consistent and seem like hyperboles of teens we know.

Audience members really need to listen up for all the allusions to the "Peanuts" characters, like when Beethoven calls Matt "Pig-Pen."

Albrechtson had an ambitious task with his new Outskirts Theatre. He directed the play, with its many thought-provoking teen topics, while keeping it highly entertaining. Staging was nicely done, making use of two large computer screens to introduce scenes and add graphic elements to the small performing space. Large blocks of brick facade were used effectively as backdrop, seating and other props on the simple set.

Even the program was clean and graphically appealing with one of the most tightly edited cast biography sections I've seen in community theater, including clear, professional cast photos.

IF YOU GO

Who: Outskirts Theatre Company and Carroll University's Theatre & Arts Management Program

What: "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead"

When: 11:59 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29; 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30

Where: Otteson Theatre, 238 N. East Ave., Waukesha

Info: www.outskirtstheatre.org

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