Good time Charlie

At first glance, the New York State Theatre Institute's version of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown doesn't seem like a typical play.

There's no central story line. Characters are essentially acting out strips from the beloved Peanuts comic strip, instead of following a plot with a clear beginning, climax and end.

But "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" packs more into those vignettes than it might appear at first glance, several of the people involved with the show say.

"It's very cleverly put together," director Robert Whiteman said. "It gives each character an arc."

Take Charlie Brown. At the outset, the character is "a misfit, an outsider," said Brian Sheldon, who plays the title character. But by show's end, Charlie Brown is warmly accepted by the rest of the gang.

"He comes full circle," Sheldon said.

Julia Franklin, who plays Lucy VanPelt, sees her character undergo a transformation, too " although in Lucy's case, it's a little more humbling.

"Lucy learns about herself a lot," Franklin said. "She learns she has some flaws."

Whiteman believes the depth of a story is a testament to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, whose strips were about a lot more than cute kids and sassy dogs. Whiteman calls himself a "huge fan" of the Peanuts, and he's been intent on making sure the young cast members of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" have an idea of just how much Schulz poured into the strip.

To that end, Whiteman looked for strips that captured the essence of each character. He assembled them into "research packets" that he handed out to the actors. He encouraged them to bring their own persona to the role, but "when in doubt, we would refer to the original," he said.

Or, as Sheldon described it, "It's got a lot of Brian in there, and then I put of lot of Charlie Brown in."

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