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Linfield graduate returns to direct play

The layers of teenage angst are explored in an upcoming play directed by a Linfield College theatre alumnus. “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” by Bert V. Royal will be performed Tuesday, March 16, through Friday, March 19, at 8 p.m. in the Marshall Theatre in Ford Hall at Linfield.

“Dog Sees God” has not been authorized or approved in any manner by the Charles M. Schulz Estate or United Features Syndicate, which have no responsibility for its content.

The play begins after the death of the main character’s dog. When CB, the main character, begins to question the existence of an afterlife, he finds little support from those around him. His best friend is too burned out to provide any coherent speculation; his sister has gone Goth; his ex-girlfriend has recently been institutionalized; and his other friends are too inebriated to give him any sort of solace. But a chance meeting with an artistic kid, the target of the group’s bullying, gives CB a peace of mind and sets in motion a friendship that will push teen angst to the very limits. Drug use, suicide, eating disorders, teen violence, rebellion and sexual identity collide and careen toward an ending that has been called both haunting and harmful.

“The play, at its heart, is about identity,” said director Jay Gipson-King, a 2000 Linfield graduate with a degree in theatre and creative writing. “The dramatic question is whether CB will break out of an environment of indifference and self-deception to find his own identity.

“The audience is left to draw its own conclusions from well-known images,” Gipson-King said. “In some ways, the play is very simple, such as its dramatic structure. But thematically, the play is very complex. Beneath all of the humor, it is about the difficulty of breaking through people’s facades.”

Gipson-King will direct a cast of eight Linfield students including Linfield freshmen Aaron Granum and Claudia Ramirez; sophomore Will Bailey; juniors Matthew Sunderland and Alessa Downing; and seniors William DeBiccari, Brenna Crocker and Jillian Haig.

Gipson-King graduated summa cum laude from Linfield, completed his master’s degree in theatre studies at Florida State University in 2004, and is working on his doctorate in theatre studies. Last spring, he taught theatre history and dramatic literature at Linfield during the sabbatical of Janet Gupton, associate professor of theatre arts.

“Linfield theatre students are well-trained and focused, and they have a dedication to their craft,” Gipson-King said. “The quality of actors and stage designers is above par for a college environment, and it’s a very professional setting in which to work.”

For Gipson-King, Linfield was his initial inspiration to become a theatre teacher. Returning to Linfield to direct “Dog Sees God” has become a beneficial experience.

“It’s great to be back on campus, and it’s a lot like coming home again,” he said. “Working at a small private liberal arts college is an ideal setting, because the focus is on developing skills of undergraduate students. Every teaching and directing experience is a chance for me to grow, and each actor is different.”

Gipson-King said that each actor has different motivations and they require a different approach from his or her director.

“It’s been a long time since I worked with Linfield theatre,” he said. “My memories of Linfield theatre are on the Pioneer stage. I remember working in a sound booth that was as big as a closet and 110 degrees inside, and being backstage without a bathroom or dressing room.”

Still, he said, it was those inconveniences that became his fondest memories of working in Pioneer. As a senior at Linfield, Gipson-King wrote and directed “The Shoe, The Salesman, His Life and His Lover” for his creative writing and theatre theses. The play was designed by Rob Vaughn, a 1997 Linfield graduate who served as the theatre’s part-time technical director at the time. As Linfield’s current technical director and sound designer, Vaughn and Gipson-King have once again joined forces for the production of “Dog Sees God.”

“Dog Sees God” has received national attention since it was introduced at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2004, where it received the Excellence Award for Best Overall Production. It was also awarded Theatermania’s Play Award of 2004 and the GLAAD Media Award for Best Off-Off-Broadway production.

Tickets are $9 for general public; $7 for seniors (62+) and Linfield faculty and staff; and $5 for students. There is a $2 discount on tickets for opening night. Tickets can be purchased on the web, by phone or at the Marshall Theatre Box Office. Purchase tickets through the secure server at www.linfield.edu/culture.html (a small service charge will apply) and pick them up at the box office on the night of the show. The box office, located in the lobby at Ford Hall, is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on performance days. Order over the phone with a credit or debit card (no service charge), 503-883-2292. The Marshall Theatre is fully accessible. Contact the box office directly if accessible seating is required.

The play may not be suitable for all audiences and contains mature language and subject matter.

For more information, contact Linfield’s Marshall Theatre at 503-883-2292.