CBC VI: Charlie Brown Mormons

James, who argues with his brother Josh, is getting antsy for the Charlie Brown Chronicles VI, likely because he has a starring role therein. See, as I indicated in CBC I, my mother had long wanted to produce a version of this show with my LDS friends, which constituted an entirely different universe than those with whom I had been Charlie Browning in the preceding five chronicles. Circa late 1983/early 1984 – still well before the foreshadowed July 13, 1985 – the number of eligible boys perfectly fit the cast requirements, and my father was our ecclesiastical leader at the time – Teacher’s Quorum Advisor, to be precise in Mormonspeak – and he had to find something to do with us that would occupy our time and would not involve overt physical exertion. (Dad doesn’t share my loathing for formal scouting, but he’s not a big fan of the great outdoors. On father-and-son overnight camping trips, he would let my brother and I pitch the tent and then go sleep in the back of the station wagon.)

And thus it was that I briefly left Schroeder behind for a moment and became Snoopy.

By this point, I recognized the superiority of the Snoopy role to all others, and I embraced the change eagerly. James was Charlie Brown, frequent contributor Foodleking was Linus, and then a bunch of other people you don’t know rounded out the cast. (We imported a Schroeder from another ward, and I’m left wondering why Robert S. didn’t play Schroeder, but there was probably a good explanation.) My mother was the musical director, and my father served as director, or so I thought. In rehearsal, his direction consisted of having me recreate, note for note, move for move, every moment of the Kids of the Century version. As I recall, I pretty much became a tyrant in rehearsal, and I would run off in the middle of my scenes to record scathing notes of the inferiority of my peers’ performances.

These people are still my friends today, though, so I’m not sure if my tyrannical behavior did any permanent damage.

Things actually went fairly smoothly, as I recall, and I enjoyed sinking my teeth into a more satisfying role than my typical Schroederic fare. But the reason this time is difficult for me to recall or even write about was that the whole experience was overshadowed by tragedy. At the time we began rehearsal, Foodleking’s father was diagnosed with a particularly virulent strain of stomach cancer. Foodleking handled this awful experience as courageously as anyone ever has, although, as an awkward teen, I had no idea how to be helpful or supportive. I could only imagine what kind of emotional pain he was dealing with, because he wasn’t the attention-seeking type, and he had no desire to be pitied. He showed up to every rehearsal, learned his lines, hit his marks, and put in a great performance. I like to think the show was a welcome distraction for him from the ordeal of real life, but I can’t be sure.

On Opening Night, I opened the printed program and was startled to see that my father had printed the words “Directed by Stallion Cornell” in large type.

“You’re saying I directed this?” I asked him.

He laughed. “You did, didn’t you?”

Hmmm. Wow. Yeah, I guess I did.

This goes down in history as the first time I ever directed a stage play, even if I lifted everything from someone else. That wasn’t entirely true – I changed a bunch of business from what I had done before, as I saw this as my chance to fix all the stuff I didn’t like about the KOTC version. The KOTC director, the KOTC Snoopy, and several other current KOTC cast members came to see the show and were duly impressed, with Snoopy even asking if she could steal some of my better gags. The original Lucy had left the cast by this point and didn’t show, which is just as well, as I needed to be able to speak in English during each performance.

There were other moments that I didn’t quite like. With Snoopy’s first line in the show, he complains that “Charlie Brown never brings me coffee in the morning.” This being a show produced by Mormons for Mormons, we decided to switch out the word “coffee” with “Egg McMuffin.” It didn’t work. And McDonalds didn’t pay us for the free plug.

In addition, “Suppertime,” my big number as Snoopy, included far more gratuitous pelvic thrusts than the KOTC version, and that raised more than a few eyebrows among our LDS audience, but there were no lasting repercussions therefrom.

Still, the most powerful memory I have from this production was when we discovered that Foodleking’s father had passed away the day we were supposed to open. All of us wondered if Foodleking would be able to take the stage, or if we should postpone opening, or what the proper response should be. At Foodleking’s insistence, we went on as scheduled, and he was perfectly calm throughout.

“This way,” he told us, “my dad will actually get to see the show.”

I have nothing to add to that.