Whitehall-Coplay Press

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Teenage angst at Civic, according to ‘Peanuts’

Saturday, June 16, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” asks what happens when a certain beloved blockhead and all his pals hit their turbulent teens.

Inspired by the popular Peanuts comic strip, “Dog Sees God,” opening June 15 at Civic Theatre 514, imagines what it might be like after the gang reaches puberty and faces high school.

Jonathan Shehab, Civic director of marketing, makes his Civic stage debut as CB, the central character. Shehab is not the only Civic staffer in the show. Kelsie Kosberg, Civic box office manager, plays Van’s sister.

The play written by Bert V. Royal premiered in 2004 at FringeNYC. The show is termed an “unauthorized parody” and part of the fun is identifying the characters, all of whom have changed quite a bit since their childhood days.

CB has become popular. His best friend is Matt, a germaphobe and a homophobe. His philosopher pal Van has turned into a stoner and Van’s sister has been institutionalized for setting fires. Catty gal pals Tricia and Marcy get drunk during lunch period and piano prodigy Beethoven is ruthlessly bullied.

The play delves into challenging contemporary topics, including drug use, child sexual abuse, suicide, eating disorders, teen violence and exploring sexual identity.

Shehab says it is the perfect time to present the show.

“The message is so powerful,” he says. “There is a lot of issues in this that society is dealing with today. It really cuts close to home.”

Shehab says he played CB in a Northampton Community College production in 2011 and is excited to revisit the role for Civic Theatre Artistic Director William Sander, who’s directing the show.

Shehab was 20 when he first played tye role. He wasn’t sure he could still play a high school student, but admits he has a “passion for the role.”

He says Sanders helped him “open a whole new door to CB.”

Shehab is embracing the role, and will wear the familiar back and yellow striped shirt and even dye his hair blonde.

“It is a very challenging role,” says Shehab. “In the beginning, CB is a big bully and he goes through this whole emotional roller coaster and by the end still hasn’t figured himself out.”

Shehab says the actors in the show are young, which befits a play exploring teenage angst.

“They are living through these characters and it is even more relevant than when we went through it first-hand.”

He says a lot of the cast is new to the Civic stage. “It is nice to have these fresh faces join the Civic family.”

The cast includes Emily Gonzalez (CB’s sister), Kristofer Swanson (Van), Jeremy Thompson (Matt), Robert Stinner (Beethoven), Alessandra Fanelli (Marcy) and Veronica Bocian (Tricia).

“Dog Sees God” wasn’t originally on the schedule for Civic’s 2017-18 season, but Sanders has wanted to do the show for a long time, so he added it to the schedule earlier this year. The show is presented in Civic’s black-box-style Theater 514.

“Honestly, this is one of those shows that is best in an intimate setting, so it can be up close and personal,” Shehab says. “It should be a little uncomfortable. A big stage wouldn’t do it justice.”

Sets and costumes are minimalistic. Performers do their own stage crew work in moving set pieces.

“This show is more about what is coming out of these character’s mouths,” Shehab says.

The show includes strong sexual situations and raw language.

“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” 7:30 p.m. June 15-16 and 21-23; 2 p.m. June 17 and 24. Theatre 514, 514 N. 19th St., Allentown. Tickets: civictheatre.com, 610-432-8943