Originally created 05/12/00

Dinner theatre pays tribute to Charles Schultz



It's a clear, perfect day, blue of sky and warm of sun, the kind of day that can only be found in the Sunday comics. What could possibly go wrong on a day like this? Quite a bit if your name is Charlie Brown.

The Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre will present You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schultz, weekends through May 27.

"We think this show is very timely," said director Steve Walpert. With Charles Schultz running his last strip and dying, we thought it would be a great time to do this. As a piece of theater it has always been timeless and now it also allows us to pay tribute to Mr. Schultz."

Part of the challenge with staging You're A Good Man Charlie Brown is bringing the two-dimensional Peanuts world into the real world, where beagles can't dance and little boys with oversized bald heads rarely turn out for casting calls.

"The actors really have to suggest the traits of these characters," said Mr. Walpert. "If they try to mimic them it won't work. It comes down to that thing that always has to happen in theater -- the willing suspension of disbelief."

To further suggest the world of Linus, Lucy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown, the Fort Gordon set has been designed based on the original comic strip drawings. All the hallmarks are there, Snoopy's doghouse, the stoop at Charlie Brown's house and the pitcher's mound that was the setting for so many baseball humiliations.

"We've tried to re-create or at least suggest the way Charles Schultz drew things," Mr. Walpert said. "We're trying to be as authentic as we can."

For the actors, the reward comes from taking these iconic characters and breathing life and some of their own personality into them.

"I didn't really read any comic strips to prepare for the role," said Nichole Kuehl, who plays perpetually-cranky Lucy in the play. "But you know, everybody knows Lucy. The thing I find myself concentrating on is doing the face. I'm trying to employ a lot of facial features that I think convey her crabbiness."

Ms. Kuehl said the play succeeds not because it is fraught with hidden meaning and symbol, but rather because of its innate simplicity.

"This really is just endearing," she said. "It's so simple, but like the comic strip has so many truths. There's just something about these little kids that speak with adult mannerisms."

There is also something about the raptures of a beagle breaking out into a spontaneous soft shoe at the thought of dinner, a tender ballad of unrequited love sung to the quiet strains of Beethoven and the unquestioning love shared between a boy and his blanket.

Cast members said that You're A Good Man Charlie Brown is most successful as entertainment.

"Really, that's what's most important to me," said William Jones, the production's Snoopy. "Entertainment with me is a big thing. I like people to be happy. I mean everybody has their own lives and problems but I like that I can distract them from that."

On stage

What: You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, presented by The Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre

When: Dinner at 7 p.m. and show at 8 p.m. today and Thursday, May 19 and May 24-26

Where: Building 32100 on Third Street at Fort Gordon

Admission: $25 per person. Call 793-8552.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.