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A twist on the Peanuts story proves challenging for UW-River Falls actors

Falcon News Service

December 9, 2015

The University Theatre at UW-River Falls presents its latest production, “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” from Dec. 8-12 in the Sanford Syse Theatre, and for the cast and director it has been a demanding two-month journey to this week.

“Dog Sees God” proved a challenge for all those involved with its production, because it is a drama and satire revolving around The Peanuts Gang as teenagers. This unofficial adaption of the beloved characters that were created by Charles M. Schulz deals with a range of teen problems including child abuse, sexuality, drug abuse and death.

CB (Corey Fern) receives advice from Van’s sister (Danielle Formanek).
CB (Corey Fern) receives advice from Van’s sister (Danielle Formanek). (Tori Schneider/Student Voice)

But the play has served as a place where some people are able to stretch their wings. One of them is Kendra Yarke, who marks this as the first play she has ever directed.

For her, things have been pretty fast-paced since they all started rehearsing back in November, a short period to produce a play, she said.

“It’s something I’ve never done before… but it’s actually gone smoother than expected,” Yarke said. “I’m very fortunate to have a cast that is so down for everything. They’ve been very respectful, have listened to direction, and tried new things.”

Danielle Bebus, who plays a Peppermint Patty analogue by the name of Patricia, said this role is different from previous roles she has had.

“It’s always challenging to take on a new role, especially Patricia, who is a mean pretty girl,” Bebus said. “I was just in ‘The Spitfire Grill,’ where I played Shelby, who’s very shy, closed off, and not forthcoming. Tricia is very abrasive, but it’s been fun getting myself to play a new, mean character.”

Whereas Bebus has been acting for some time on campus, for Corey Fern this is his first semester and his first acting role at UW-River Falls, which he has said has not been easy on him. Fern plays the lead, called CB.

“It’s definitely a challenge. This has been the most demanding role I have ever had to play,” he said.

With the way the play is written and because it is a black-box production, meaning the audience is quite close to the actors, Fern said he had to focus heavily on his facial expressions so that theater-goers will not miss an inch of his acting abilities.

Another hurdle he faced is portraying a character who has homosexual desires, but Fern said all the actors involved have been quite professional. For Fern, kissing your fellow actor is just another part of the job.

A big part of the job of acting and directing is what these students owe to the audience. Yarke said she believes that what they must deliver is trueness to teen life and give an honest perspective to viewers.

“Quite frankly, we have a conservative audience at River Falls and it’s challenging and a little bit nerve-racking because you don’t want anybody to be offended. But at the same time I think it’s good to keep an open mind,” Yarke said.

“I think the script is funny, interesting,” she added, “and will hopefully make people think.”

Both Yarke and Fern said that with the audience being college students, the memories of high school and being teens are still strong, and will help them resonate with what is being expressed through the play.

Performances of “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Sanford Syse Theatre (108 Kleinpell Fine Arts). Tickets may be purchased online at marketplace.uwrf.edu until 3 p.m. on the date of the performance, and afterwards between 6:30-7:15 p.m. on the evening of the performance at the Kleinpell Fine Arts box office. UWRF students with a valid identification are entitled to one free ticket at the box office.