Student-led Upstage Theater kicks off its 2018-2019 production season with “Dog Sees God,” slated to open Friday night in downtown Mountain View.
Written in 2004 by Bert V. Royal, the play reimagines the characters of the cartoon “Peanuts” as struggling teenagers. They grapple with homophobia, bullying, suicide, eating disorders and other issues in their efforts to find their identities – issues that are “very prevalent in many teenagers’ lives but aren’t talked about very often,” said Olivier Plamondon, a freshman at Foothill College, who plays protagonist CB.
Such themes are aligned with Upstage’s dedication to “creating safe spaces to examine what it means to be a teenager,” as cited on its website. The youth of the characters can create opportunities for the actors – teens themselves – to connect with the content onstage.
“I had a really sick family member who actually passed away this week,” said Rachel Small, who plays CB’s sister. “And after I was at rehearsal, when I found out that he had passed away, I was watching the show from the point of view (of) someone who just lost someone, and I felt so amazing. I felt so hopeful afterwards, because I was just, like, everything’s going to be OK, no matter what happens.”
Small, a homeschooled junior, also mentioned a connection with her onstage persona, noting that she “found familiarity” in the development of CB’s sister’s story in that they share some traits – “kooky,” “theatrical,” “shy.”
Similarly, director Sam Evans, a senior at Mountain View High School, finds a reflection of her sexuality on the stage. As a lesbian, Evans said she didn’t find the topic “represented in movies that often,” and she “wanted (her) own experience to influence that aspect of the show.”
She added: “I love that we get to show teens a production that they wouldn’t normally see at high school because of the risqué content, and that we get to show parents that this sort of content is stuff that’s happening, and we’re dealing with it, and it’s very real.”
To prepare for “Dog Sees God,” Evans said the eight-person cast rehearsed 10-15 hours each week and dedicated Saturdays to in-depth work. Some days they rehearsed at Evans’ house, other days at assistant director Naomi Shanson’s house and, when available, at the San Bruno recreation center.
Other than an assist in legal matters from Bonnie and John Fought – the parents of Upstage founder Julie Fought – Evans said the play has been produced entirely by teens.
Giving young people so much control over plays about teens – like “Dog Sees God” – makes them more authentic, according to cast member Erica Trautman.
“When you get these shows that are done with all-adult casts, the adults can bring some reflection on the matter, but it’s, like, teens are really living it,” said the Homestead High School senior, who plays the supporting role of Tricia.
Performances of “Dog Sees God” are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts SecondStage, 500 Castro St. Tickets are $17 (students) and $22 (adults). For tickets and more information, call 903-6000 or visit mvcpa.com.