‘Dog Sees God’ Theater production moves audience to both laughter and tears

As the lights dim in Castleton University’s Black Box Theater, members of the audience adjust their chairs to make room for another sold-out show to the production of “Dog Sees God,” created by Bert V. Royal and directed by Marisa Valent-Altland.

A dark spinoff of the popular cartoon “Peanuts,” the show imagines its classic child characters as extremely dysfunctional adolescents, featuring themes of homophobia, disordered eating, physical and sexual assault, drug use and suicide, to show a glimpse of the harsh realities many teens endure.

“Where do people go when they die?” repeatedly asks the lead character, CB, played by Eli Kochalka.

After searching for answers and finding none, he then confides in a trusted pen pal about the death of his dog and the loss of his love interest, Beethoven, to suicide following perpetual homophobic harassment and assault.

The story ends with a message about speaking up before it’s too late, whether that be supporting the victim or reaching out to other peers and adults to address the abuse, harassment or neglect taking place.

Josie Gawrys, playing Beethoven, said the content of the play was “very heavy and personal to everyone” involved, moving many to repeated tears, including himself.

He added that it was his first time acting in a college show, and he was “very happy (he) had such a good experience,” giving credit to the cast and crew’s emotional support throughout the process.

Although the show was centered around serious themes, there were many moments of humor that made the audience burst into laughter.

One of these scenes, shared by Kochalka, was “the Nirvana scene,” when CB and stoner-kid, Van, played by Kendrick Madore, discuss the importance of letting go. Van shares that he burnt his childhood blanket and rolled the ashes of it to smoke.

There were also many funny moments from the characters Marcy and Tricia, played by Kathryn Osburn and Sarah Serrano, who embodied the mean girl archetype.

“She was such a bitch,” says Serrano, pointing out Marcy’s problematic nature but adding that, because of this, it was such a fun role to play.

She said one of her favorite scenes was “the Salisbury food scene,” when Marcy and Tricia gossip at the lunch table while drinking excessively, only to dramatically stand up on the tables and protest a teacher and student they hate (for no good reason).

Many of the actors agreed that although the show was “emotionally exhausting,” as Serrano said, and “overwhelming to say the least,” added Gawrys – especially having a total of five shows and two invited dress rehearsals.

But all that work paid off in the end – “Dog Sees God” was a show that moved the cast and audience to a heap of laughter and tears and brought awareness to a variety of issues that today’s youth experience.

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