Story: What does a talent agent do when her prime client, a suave and popular leading man, has a “recurring case of homosexuality”? Well, if the agent is Diane and the matinee idol is Mitchell, she does her mighty best to submerge his true identity. In fact, lesbian Diane even poses as Mitchell’s ‘beard’ to allay any fears or concerns by the general public about his manliness.
That works until Mitchell meets Alex, a male prostitute with whom he quickly becomes smitten. While Alex assures Mitchell that he has a girlfriend and isn’t really gay, the attraction between the two men indicates otherwise.
When Diane finds out about Alex, she takes command of the situation, including Alex’s friend Ellen. Diane thinks out a plausible plot line that will placate the gay but very nervous writer whose work she badly wants adapted to the screen, with Mitchell in the lead role, swooning female hearts as they all rake in the profits of a ‘hit’ movie.
Highlights: A two-act comedy written by Douglas Carter Beane, The Little Dog Laughed enjoyed modest success off-Broadway and then on Broadway itself , where it garnered a Tony Award for Best Actress and a Tony nomination as Best Play in 2007. It’s a humorous script, made all the more amusing by Beane’s deft ‘fill in famous name here’ style that may have its audiences drawing conclusions (Tom Cruise, anyone?).
The Rep staged a very funny version of The Little Dog Laughed in its late, lamented Off-Ramp series several years ago. Now, Stray Dog Theatre artistic director Gary Bell offers his own fitfully funny take on Beane’s modern fable (the nursery rhyme title alludes to that effect) with his current, entertaining version.
Other Info: The stage is set for this humorous tale with Rob Lippert’s enchanting scenic design that incorporates artwork created exclusively for Stray Dog’s production by Gary Karasek (available for purchase at the end of the run). The bi-level design is dominated by a large bed on the main stage, flanked above on either end by panels that open to characters commenting on the scenes below.
Bell’s costume design allows Diane to dress up while the boys dress down, so to speak, while Tyler Duenow’s lighting ranges from the broad strokes that complement Diane’s brash, bulldog character to the softer effect desired for bedroom scenes.
Sarajane Alverson is fully committed to the role of the fast-talking, deal-making Diane, which is vital to the success of the play since Diane has most of the good lines. Alverson forges forward in grand style as we watch the wheels of Diane’s feverish brain turn frantically to make the best of a bad situation and maximum profits from any good fortune. Her finale to Act I is a rollicking good time.
Bradley Behrmann is a suitable foil for Alverson as the laid-back, lovelorn Mitchell, particularly affecting when he unearths the loneliness inherent in Mitchell’s aching soul. Paige Hackworth is convincing as the vacuous, self-centered Ellen, who cannot comprehend why the world doesn’t measure up to her expectations. As Alex, Paul Cereghino captures the lad’s vulnerability even while he reveals Alex’s own troubled and abusive childhood.
Bell keeps the action moving between the twin levels of the set in parry-and-thrust fashion, ensuring that pacing never lags.
The Little Dog Laughed is written mostly for laughs, with a dollop of rueful rumination. Stray Dog’s rendition is faithful to that mixture, a tasty tonic on a cold winter’s night.
Play: The Little Dog Laughed
Company: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: February 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22
Tickets: $18-$20; contact 865-1995 or www.StrayDogTheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb
Watch HEC-TV’s 'live' telecast of the second annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony, which will be held at COCA on Monday, March 17, 2014.