FREMONT -- Ohlone College theater students last year took a risk by reinterpreting a popular but off-color play that depicts Charlie Brown and other "Peanuts" characters as wild teenagers searching for themselves.
But instead of facing criticism for their raw version of "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," the Fremont students were rewarded with an invitation to perform next week at the regional competition of the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
"It's such an honor for our program because this festival is very well-respected," said Michael Navarra, director of the Ohlone production.
The production, with a cast and crew of about 45 students, was one of four Western regional finalists that festival judges selected among 137 West Coast entrants. The four-day event kicks off Monday at American River College in Sacramento. To help offset travel costs, the students have scheduled a fundraising performance Friday night at the Smith Center on Ohlone's Fremont campus.
Once the regional festivals end, four to six college theater troupes will be invited to perform at the national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, held each spring in Washington, D.C.
Six Ohlone College actors -- Michael Tran, Brian Berkowitz, Stacey Lynn Bell, Edward Ochoa, Steven Vogel and Danny Carpenter -- also will compete for an acting scholarship at the Western regional festival.
In "Dog Sees God," Tran plays C.B. -- a character based on Charlie Brown -- who struggles to find his identity while he and teenage friends experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol. "It's based only loosely on 'Peanuts,' so it was easy to put aside any baggage from the comic strip," said Tran, 21, of Fremont. "The play is very realistic about what teens go through today."
The play -- written by screenwriter/playwright Bert V. Royal and first performed in an off-Broadway New York theater in 2005 -- has become a frequent choice for youth theater productions because of its teen-angst themes.
Navarra said several things about Ohlone's production may have caught the eye of festival judges, such as the inventive set created by professional designer George Ledo. "On the background behind the actors, we have all these comic strip frames that appear to be falling off a page onto the stage," Navarra said. "It's a metaphor for these characters we know and love who are kind of falling apart; the innocence of the comic strip is falling and entering into today's high schools."
It was the second time in three years that an Ohlone College theater production has competed as a festival finalist. "It's great for the students," Navarra said. "Because of these honors, the four-year universities they apply to will have heard of Ohlone College."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
WHAT: Fundraising performance of "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead"
WHO: Ohlone College Department of Theatre and Dance
WHERE: Jackson Theatre at the Smith Center, Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
INFO: 510-659-6031 or www.smithcenter.com