>YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN by Caldwell Arts Entertainment

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 17 aug 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: chijmes hall
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Throughout the entire play I kept thinking about Peter Rabbit. Asked to do a book report about Peter Rabbit, Linus (Robin Goh) saw in this children's tale adult, socio-economic themes. Pretty hefty issues for a child doing a mere book report on a kiddy's book, you would think right? Well, while watching the daily lives of Charlie Brown and company unfold before my eyes, the tale of these five friends gained significance greater than just a comic strip about a born loser and his dog. Sure it could have been just an easy night out of food and drinks while watching a guy prance around the stage pretending to be a dog… it could have been just that. But like Linus, I saw the true story of Peter Rabbit - beneath the simple story of a failure little boy is a social commentary on the young's painful struggle to fulfil their own destinies, of how the changing world moves in tandem not in sync with the people but rather with the notion of progress itself.

The Peanut gang's musings gained existentialistic proportions something unexpected in light of the nostalgic charm of the quaint comic strip.

Or maybe it was just me.

In any case, the play just on the level of entertainment alone was already a success. From the wine and dine to the drama on stage, it was clear the audience were lapping it all up. Everybody came down expecting a good meal and clean healthy fun from a musical adapted from one of the world best loved comic strips - and they got it. The set was sparse but cleverly evocative of a simpler time where the lack of details was not a liability. Colourful boxes set the tone for the night with childhood symbols triggering an emotive awakening of our own past. And to the cast's credit, they made their characters believable and their own, even though a large suspension of disbelief was needed initially to convince myself that they were the Peanuts gang.

>>'Songs were rousing and great fun as audiences were roped in on the gang's daily adventures and found themselves singing along to the silly yet always charming tunes.'

Songs were rousing and great fun as audiences were roped in on the gang's daily adventures and found themselves singing along to the silly yet always charming tunes.

Yet how the play did succeed on another level was by the way it made itself relevant to the audience beyond the initial attraction of walking down memory lane. Sure it was cute seeing all those grown-up actors dressed up in the likeness of Charlie and gang and it was indeed heart-warming to hear them grouse about book reports, lunch boxes and flying kites. But beyond all these, "Peanuts" was also about finding your place in this vast world, about trying to catch up with the rapid paces of the world, about connection, about the big "L" word - Life. Beyond the colour-coordinated costumes and Mary Poppins boxes were serious ruminations. Patty stops in anguish in the middle of her rope skipping - "I was jumping rope and it was fine but all of a sudden, it was so futile". Sarte would have been proud. In another scene, Snoopy says in deadpan "I never realised how far it was from the ground from here".

The audience perhaps thought no more than that these were silly little lines performed a neurotic girl tired of skipping and a cute dog talking about his doghouse. Yes maybe that was it. Or maybe not. And that's the real success of the play. That beyond the level of pure entertainment, the play worked just as well as a serious social commentary on our "humanness" - that essence of being that transcends time, be it the innocent past stripped of irony or our complicated ethos of postmodernist confusion. These quiet reflections are just as relevant in the 1950s when the comic strip started as they are today when comics are really more "Sandman "than "Peanuts".

For a production limited by its own definition as dinner theatre - you wouldn't want to watch 'Desdemona' while eating your dinner would you? - I say it made good its promise of giving the audience a good time and even more.

You are a good man, Charlie Brown. A good man indeed.