The Little Dog Laughed
The Little Dog Laughed premiered back in 2007, as written by Douglas Carter Beane who is perhaps best known for penning To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, and has been nominated for a Tony and GLAAD Media Award. Douglas Carter Beane knows his audience, primarily a queer or queer-friendly crowd that’s come to see a kind of modern day spin on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. What they’ll find instead is a sharp take on careerism and sexual identity, that challenges presumptions most audience members will have already put to rest or filed away.
The approach is shameless, and doesn’t bother keeping pace with those that haven’t already been initiated into gay identity issues. Instead it treads new territory for a crowd used to the common slings and arrows of gay romance, but now re-imagining them in a world that is increasingly demanding and sophisticated. A closeted actor Mitchell (Owen Martin) has a one-night stand during his trip to New York that threatens his career and the career of his best friend and agent Diane, a lesbian (Bernadette Birket) who’s chosen work over a love life. His lover Alex (Trip Langley) sorts through the collateral damage with his girlfriend Ellen (Laine Jennings) but expectations be damned. This is not about love conquering all. This about love suffering from jealousy, lies and greed.
Laine Jennings phones in the part of a socialite-for-rent and I’m not sure why she didn’t do more with the part. She was likely cast for her square, rodeo-drive features and her costumes are superb but she doesn’t quite communicate the supreme boredom and self-pity of the character that is written into the script. In her final confrontation with Alex, for example, she sells Ellen’s cunning and wit but it feels unmotivated because she fails to communicate the dependence and desperation written in the part. Opposite her is Alex played by Trip Langely, who is arguably the strongest actor on stage. His character is also the most dynamic, struggling to understand how much his actions determine his identity as opposed to his desires. Alex never resolves this dilemma, and he does a wonderful job portraying a lost soul with charm and a quiet, enthusiasm for life.
Trip’s subtlety is countered by a weird, paranoid performance by Owen Martin that is marked more by the actors self-awareness, than any by internal conflict with the character. Martin is new to theatre on the West Coast, and it shows. Bernadette Birkett does a wonderful job getting across a personal performance, then following it up by charming if sometimes imperfect delivery of the more comedic bits. As such, the other actors on-stage demonstrate some degree of control having also worked television and film, but Martin gestures loudly and his cries of help are more like cries for direction from the other actors. His character is prime real estate for every range of emotion, but Martin doesn’t take it beyond extreme excitability. By the end, his performance was causing more than just this reviewer to blush in the audience.
The Little Dog Laughed is a three-act comedy seen at the Zephyr Theatre on September 1st as produced by Blazeco and starring Bernadette Birkett, Trip Langley, Owen Martin and Laine Jennings, directed by Jon Cortez. The show runs now through September 16th.