The way Bert V. Royal imagines it, the Red Baron doesn't take down Snoopy.
Thus begins Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead," a parody of the "Peanuts" universe that the Fearless Theatre Collaborative presents Sunday at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks.
Premiered in 2004, every night is a dark and stormy night for Charles M. Schulz's "Peanuts" characters, who are now teenagers grappling with all the usual issues that accompany the high school years -- angst, identity formation, sex, drugs, eating disorders, bullying and rebellion.
"I think it's really cool that it's the 'Peanuts' characters grown up," director Derek Herman says by phone from Chicago, where he lives and Fearless is based. "I loved the comic strip as a child growing up, and I think it's really cool that they're used to talk about (these issues)."
But "Dog Sees God" makes having a football yanked away from his extended foot seem like the good old days for good ol' Charlie Brown.
In Royal's version, the "Peanuts" characters have almost all changed in major and even radical ways, including how they're known -- in order to avoid copyright infringement, he changes their names for this unauthorized play.
"It would be a little shocking," Herman says about how serious fans of "Peanuts" might react. "The play starts off with revealing Snoopy died and he had rabies and he killed Woodstock. There is a gasp every night when he says a little yellow bird was killed."
Linus, the one-time thumb-sucking, blanket-carrying philosopher, is now a pot-smoking philosopher named Van -- his and sister Lucy's last name in the comic is Van Pelt; she's known simply as Van's Sister and has been institutionalized after setting fire to the Little Red-Haired Girl's hair.
Similarly, Charlie Brown goes by CB and his sister, Sally, is referred to only as CB's Sister, who dresses in Goth style.
Among other characters, Pig Pen now goes by Matt and is a germophobe, a homophobe, a bully and a football player; Peppermint Patty is now a party girl named Tricia; and Marcie still follows her around, now as Marcy.
The pianist Schroeder is now known as Beethoven and is the target of Matt's bullying. Eventually, CB initiates a romantic relationship with Beethoven, and the two kiss at a party, which sets in motion the play's climax.
"You can see the roots of the characters, but they have all changed, except Charlie Brown," Herman says. "He still questions everything he does, he's still lonely -- Charlie Brown is just such a sad little guy. A lot of his curiosity is still there, his attempts to fit into a world he doesn't fit into. ... I think it's about him finding his new self as opposed to the old Charlie Brown we see in the comics."
A native of Oregon, Herman understudied all the male roles in a production of "Dog Sees God" while he was in high school there.
After he graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts Conservatory at Roosevelt University in May, he and classmate Hillary Horvath, a native of Floyds Knobs, Ind., founded Fearless with two major missions.
Financially, the theater chooses a charity to receive money from its productions. From the six-performance run of "Dog Sees God" this summer and an Indigogo crowd-funding campaign, Fearless raised $1,000 for the Tyler Clementi Foundation, named for the Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after his roommate used the Internet to out him as a homosexual.
Artistically, Herman and Horvath intend to produce theater for high school students that addresses adolescent concerns.
"I feel like there are things you can't quite discuss in high school that you're going through," Herman says. "Sitting in an audience with your fellow high school friends, it opens a dialogue about things you're going through. ... We're looking for things that are very true and realistic to the experience and open a dialogue between you and your friends or parents."