Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Mitchell is a Hollywood based actor who is on the verge of making it big. His only problem? As Diane, his piranha of an agent, puts it, he "suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality." When Mitchell starts to have feelings for rent boy Alex, who claims to be straight with a girlfriend named Ellen, Diane goes into overdrive to handle the potential damage Mitchell's decision could bring, as she's afraid the resulting circumstances could jeopardize her film project that is to star Mitchell.
Beane's play is both funny and sweet but also a tad bit tart and glib, though there are plenty of cleverly written dialogue and situations that don't always go where you think they will. Beane even creates an interesting connection with the play that Diane has bought, and plans to make changes to for the film adaptation, which also centers on a gay relationship and has a supporting female character, since it seems to possibly mirror the actual plot of the The Little Dog Laughed. While Beane's play premiered in 2006, and there have been several gay actors who have come out since then without it impacting their film or TV careers, it still seems like a fairly faithful representation of how Hollywood actors must appear to be straight to remain productive and hirable while a gay actor on Broadway doesn't suffer the same potential career setbacks.
Director Damon Dering does a pretty good job of ensuring the comical moments land without detracting from the more serious scenes which he instills with a sweet, emotional resonance. Though his direction has an appropriate light touch, the pacing in a few parts was somewhat off during the performance I attended, with some of the funnier moments too rushed and some of the serious dialogue too slowly delivered. Hopefully, with a few more performances, the cast will settle in and the pace will improve to make the jokes get bigger laughs and the serious bits not be too drawn out. Dering's staging is quite good, including having several moments delivered directly to the audience from the front of the stage which adds a nice connection between the cast and audience and an effectively staged scene in act two where the four characters all come together before the fitting ending.
Frankie Marchi is quite good as rent boy Alex. When Alex discovers that he returns Mitchell's feelings, the way Marchi projects the confusion that leads to clarity is beautifully portrayed. Nathalie Cadieux' Diane is devious, cunning, power hungry, and a perfectly coifed and highly stylized agent. Cadieux has the right balance of both care and manipulation underneath Diane's bullying exterior. Jack Francis slightly downplays Mitchell, the man who realizes he doesn't want any bullshit in his life; he wants more than what he's got and wishes to no longer live behind a façade. Both Marchi and Francis give their characters' relationship moments of beauty and realism, never delving into sappiness. As Ellen, Avery Volk doesn't overplay this woman who is completely aware that her boyfriend sleeps with men for money but is jealous when she realizes that she may be losing him to Mitchell.
Creative elements are good, with Kenneth Anthony's set, which was based on a design by David Castellano, and the lighting design from Clare Burnett effectively creating Mitchell's hotel room, a club, and a few other locations. Dering's costume, hair and make-up designs are very good and character specific, with his creations for Diane especially noteworthy.
The Little Dog Laughed may not be a great comedy, but it is an interesting story about people who are just trying to have it all and be true to themselves but suffer the ramifications those decisions bring.
The Little Dog Laughed runs through December 2nd, 2017, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org.
Written by Douglas Carter Beane