Anyone who thinks teen life is an uncomplicated breeze clearly hasn’t seen Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.
Ignition Theatre is staging the acclaimed production at The Matchbox, with shows running through to Feb. 26. Curtain is 7:30 p.m.
An off-Broadway hit, the play features the Peanuts gang as teens facing a range of heavy-duty issues, so it’s not Charlie Brown or CB and company as some might expect. In fact, if you are longing for performances reflecting the gang in earlier times, you’ll likely be appalled.
Nope. This story runs years later as the kids navigate their way through the escalating issues and angst of being teens. And while the characters’ names don’t match the Peanuts characters per se, audiences will recognize who is who. That’s where much of the fun comes in.
Expertly directed by Matt Grue, the story picks up when CB’s dog dies from rabies and he embarks on a search for meaning. He wants to know what happens after death, but his circle of friends – often immersed in partying, rebellion, drugs and sex – aren’t a whole lot of help.
Ryan Mattila plays CB to perfection. He even kind of looks like the iconic character. More importantly, he nails the vulnerability, sincerity and depression that CB often fights his way through. He’s also got a heart of gold and really cares for his friends, while facing a few critical identity issues of his own.
His sister, wonderfully played by the versatile Mari Chartier, is also on a personal search of her own, as are most of the circle. His buddy Matt (Chris Cook) is obsessed with girls and is strangely and fiercely protective of CB. He also is something of a clean freak, a striking contrast to his childhood habits when a perpetual cloud of dust seemed to trail him everywhere. Hmmm. Cook is great in the role, one that doesn’t particularly endear him to audiences but is intrinsic to the plot.
The rest of the cast also brings plenty of energy, fire and grit to their performances. Paul Sutherland is hilarious as the spaced out, drugged up Van, and Starlise Waschuck and Chantel Hutchison bring loads of spirit and biting wit to their roles as Tricia and Marcy respectively.
Erin Odell is fabulous as Van’s sister, who has been locked up because she started another girl’s hair on fire.
Anyways, as clever and interesting as this play is (penned by Bert. V. Royal), the stream of profanity and crudity gets tiresome, particularly when you start to wonder where this is all going.
But it’s indeed going somewhere. CB establishes a surprising relationship with Beethoven (Chad Pitura), the gifted musician who has suffered plenty of rejection from the group. This relationship takes the plot to a more intense, unexpected place, and its fallout is essentially at the heart of the play. Pitura is superb in the role – angry, pained, lonely and grasping for answers to an identity he is both drawn to and frightened by.
And again, it has to be pointed out how strong Mattila is as CB. His performance builds as the story unfolds – absolutely spot on as he’s picking up the pieces of his world around the finale.
As with all Ignition plays, there is indeed a point. Or perhaps several. A powerful and poignant one is superbly driven home by the end. All in all, there’s a sharply crafted smattering of everything from humour to grief throughout. Teens, no doubt, face a world many of us of course fail to remember very well. What your life was like as a teen will greatly impact, I believe, how you feel about this production.
Rounding out the terrific creative team are Cindy Ridge (set design), Patrick Beagan (lighting design), Dustin Clark (sound), Clayton Hitchcock (costume design) and stage manager Stephanie Ridge.
The play carries a discretionary warning of adult themes and language.
Tickets are $22 for adults and $18 for students and seniors and are available at The Matchbox box office by calling 403-341-6500 and visiting www.ignitiontheatre.ca.
For more information, visit Ignition Theatre online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.