Posts Tagged ‘the little dog laughed’

The Little Dog Laughed
by Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
February 7th, 2014

Bradley J. Behrmann, Sarajane Alverson Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Bradley J. Behrmann, Sarajane Alverson
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Hollywood is another planet, or at least another land. It’s a fantasy land where everything is perfectly glamorous, people are beautiful (and there’s only one definition of beauty), men are manly (again, one definition), and image is everything. Any resemblance to the real world is purely coincidental, and when anything happens that might disrupt that perfect Hollywood image, it can take a lot of maneuvering to bring things back into line. That’s the premise behind Douglas Carter Beane’s sharply satirical 2006 comedy The Little Dog Laughed, which has been given a hilarious and strikingly staged production by Stray Dog Theatre.

The Hollywood image is one that must be constantly controlled, and one of the people doing the controlling is Diane (Sarajane Alverson), a high-powered agent who represents up-and-coming movie star Mitchell (Bradley J. Behrmann). Currently in New York with Diane trying to secure the film rights to an acclaimed play, Mitchell has a promising career and public image, but his problem is what Diane refers to as his “recurring case of homosexuality”, which Diane hopes to keep under wraps through some carefully managed spin. She even willingly participates in a sham “showmance” with Mitchell even though she is a lesbian.  For Diane, it seems, the personal life of a star doesn’t matter, and even her own life is entirely dominated by her career goals and those of her clients.  Mitchell seems perfectly content with this arrangement, satisfying his own more personal desires in a series of anonymous trysts with young male prostitutes in hotel rooms, until he meets Alex (Paul Cereghino), with whom he shares a mutual fascination that promises to develop into a genuine romantic attachment.  On Alex’s part, the relationship is both intriguing and frightening, challenging him to confront his own sexual identity, since he had insisted that before he met Mitchell, his activities with men had been strictly for the money. For Alex’s occasional girlfriend, the aimless and opportunistic Ellen (Paige Hackworth), this new situation is confusing and threatening, and for Diane it is another challenge to her strictly ordered plan of success.  

There are many issues covered here, from the image-consciousness of Hollywood and show business in general, to commercialism vs. artistic integrity, to personal identity vs. public identity and the struggle for genuine human connection in the midst of all the manufactured “reality”, as well as how sexuality (and particularly homosexuality) figures into the manufactured Hollywood image.  All these issues are covered with cutting humor and a broad, satirical edge. I particularly enjoyed the “meta” elements referencing the various elements of the show’s structure, and the business meeting scene with Mitchell and an unseen famous playwright in which Diane carefully negotiates a business deal, emphasizing the absurdity of expecting a  Hollywood agent to keep her promises and prompting the biggest laugh of the performance with one caustic line.  Everything is over the top, and in Diane’s view, there’s a carefully orchestrated solution for any problem, which is highlighted in the  outrageous, cynical and comically appropriate ending.

Beane’s script is incisive and fast-moving, and director Gary F. Bell and his cast work well to maintain the pace.  The staging is crisp–aided by Rob Lippert and Melanie Kozak’s  stylish, compartmentalized set–and the performances are strong. Timing is of utmost importance, and Alverson especially demonstrates this with masterful precision.  Her performance is the driving force of this production. Clad in costume designer Bell’s succession of severe power suits, Alverson bravely relishes every witty and cutting line, displaying a determination that is at once impressive and frightening, as Diane seeks to maintain order in her brash, efficient manner.  Behrmann is convincing as the jaded and bewildered Mitchell, and Cereghino shows a lot of charisma as the conflicted young Alex, gaining most of the sympathy in this production as his journey of self-discovery and search for fulfillment contrasts with the more self-serving goals of those around him, and his more emotional scenes with Behrmann are particularly affecting.  Hackworth also does a good job, managing to bring some substance to the slight role of Ellen.

This is definitely a play for adult audiences, with its emphasis on sexual themes and brief (and carefully choreographed) scenes of nudity and sexual situations. For grown-ups who are looking for sharp, sophisticated comedy, though, it’s a well-crafted play that makes fun of Hollywood superficiality while challenging the status quo in an outrageously funny way.  Although the Hollywood atmosphere (and particularly the increasing number of openly gay actors) has changed somewhat since this play was first produced, the overall focus on image remains, which makes this play’s jokes still ring true.  The Little Dog Laughed at Stray Dog Theatre provides for an entertaining and uproariously funny evening of theatre.

Paul Cereghino, Bradley J. Behrmann Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Paul Cereghino, Bradley J. Behrmann
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

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