Irreverent ‘Dial P’ Brings Student Crowd to Its Feet
By Doug Carroll
Can we do something — anything — to keep David Hayes from putting GCU in his rearview mirror in a couple of weeks?
Hayes, a popular instructor in the College of Liberal Arts for the past four years, will be leaving with his wife to return to Howell, Mich., for family reasons. The move has been planned by the couple for some time.
The imminent departure of Hayes made the weekend performances of “Dial P for Peanuts” a bittersweet affair. In this irreverent, raucous satire, written by Hayes and directed by GCU alumnus Michael Kary, the characters from the Charles Schulz comic strip have grown up — and not for the better.
Summoned by a mysterious “Mr. Iman” to an island mansion for a reunion, the characters discover just how much their lives have changed, even if their personalities haven’t.
Penn (Pigpen, played by Jason Taylor) is now a hunky cologne model. Patty (Peppermint Patty, Robert Mohle Jr.) has, um, gender-identification issues. Schroeder, the self-absorbed pianist, is now Shredder (Jake Swanson), a self-absorbed, drug-addled rock star. Sally (Shelby Athouguia), Charlie Brown’s sister, is addicted to booze and serial marriage. Lucille (Lucy, Rachel Hunt) is, not surprisingly, a Harvard-educated psychiatrist. And Charles (Charlie Brown, Brad Beamon) is a spectacularly mediocre environmental lawyer.
Franklin (now running for political office, played by Blake Stephens) and Marci (an FBI agent, Maria Anderson) also join the dysfunctional party.
“You’re all self-involved egomaniacs,” Mr. Iman says in a withering recorded speech that reveals the dirt he has on them.
He also has left behind a poem that forecasts, in the manner of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” how each will die at the hands of a killer in their midst. That’s the set-up, and then the madness begins.
At one point, there’s a power outage, and the crew copes by singing “Kumbaya.” Later on, Lucille proves relentless in reopening old wounds while she hangs from a noose (yes, that’s correct).
“How many times did you try to kick that football?” she badgers Charles, still holding the upper hand in the relationship despite her compromised position.
There’s a cameo by the Little Red Haired Girl (Andie Miller) and a surprise ending — which we refuse to give away — but suffice it to say that this isn’t your father’s “Peanuts.” An electrified, Jimi Hendrix-style version of the “Peanuts” theme played as the audience filed into Ethington Theatre, indicating as much.
“We all grew up with the ‘Peanuts’ gang, and that’s why this works so well,” said Hayes, crediting the razor-sharp student cast and a largely student audience that rewarded Thursday night’s first show with a standing ovation.
“These are iconic characters,” he said. “But the incessant platitudes of ‘Peanuts’ turned us into … what? It was time to end the toxic friendship.”
Although the three GCU performances — two on Thursday, one on Saturday — were the first for “Dial P,” Hayes said he has interest from Los Angeles and London in the script. Because the play had no budget and wasn’t officially part of the Ethington Theatre Series, the set was minimal and rehearsals kept getting moved around campus.
The cast didn’t seem to mind.
“We got to be involved in the creative process,” said Nathan deLaet, who played the butler, Jeeves, and the voice of Mr. Iman. “It was, ‘Does this work or doesn’t it?’ We got to see each other grow.”
Athouguia praised the stage direction of Kary, who helped Hayes polish off the script.
“He gave us so much freedom with the characters,” she said. “He never told us how to be or what to do. We had a chance to go a little crazy. This wasn’t what we normally do here.”
The show was full of — ahem — killer performances by College of Fine Arts and Production students who have risen to the occasion all year. Beamon, solid in several previous roles, perfectly captured the dithering doofus that is Charlie Brown.
“The theatre kids were excited to do something that hadn’t been done already,” said Hayes, who plans to continue teaching for GCU online. “They knocked it out of the park.”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.