Saturday, February 01, 2014

Review: The Little Dog Laughed at ArtsWest - More Than a Comedy

Heather Hawkins, Alex Garnett, Jeff Orton (photo by Michael Brunk)

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED
ARTSWEST PLAYHOUSE
Through February 16


Suppose you are a closeted actor on the verge of getting a really big film, and you and your agent are on the verge of making it to the top of the heap, instead of crawling around the pile with the rest of the grunts. Suppose the biggest irony is that the script of the film is about two Gay men, but the idea that Gay men would actually play the roles is gross to the powers that run Hollywood, so if you come out, you could ruin the movie and your big career move. 

In fact, that's still very much a Hollywood stereotype, if you look at huge films like Brokeback Mountain, and more recently at Behind the Candelabra, the HBO giant starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, even now winning the top awards for not being Gay. So, the script story in The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane is not too far off, even today, though he wrote the play in 2006. 

The ArtsWest production, starring the quartet of Alex Garnett, Jeff Orton, Heather Hawkins and EmilyRose Frasca, does a fine job of presenting the dilemma. 

Mitchell (Garnett), the actor, hasn't even been that interested in sex all these years, still conflicted about his sexuality, and insecure. Every once in a while, he pays for some fun, and meets Alex (Orton) after a phone call to an 'agency.' Diane (Hawkins), the agent, saw something in Mitchell and has stuck with him through thin, but when she sees his deepening relationship with the 'rent boy,' she starts to get worried. 

Alex, as written, is full of contradictions. He makes his money by having sex with wealthy men, but does not consider himself homosexual. He kind of has a girlfriend, Ellen (Frasca), though she also has sex with wealthy men. Yet, when he has the chance, at the top of the show, to 'roll' Mitchell and split, he doesn't. Something in Mitchell's vulnerability stirs something more in Alex and he finds himself wanting to stick around. 

That is a piece of the buggy ride that this more-than-comedy takes you on. It feels like a romp, and Hawkins' foul-mouthed, off-hand delivery definitely keeps that feeling alive. But there are also tender moments and some (perhaps unintentionally) awkward ones. Mitchell starts to accept himself and wants to out himself, consequences be damned. The men begin to have real emotions toward each other. 

In an interesting twist, Alex's character arc is most interesting. He has the farthest to go in finding out about himself and has the most integrity. Mitchell, at least, knows he's homosexual and it's more a matter of whether he will make that public or not. 

While Hawkins gets most of the big laugh lines, she is occasionally a bit broad, needing a stronger hand from director Annie Lareau. But by the end of the play, her character's smarts and calculation are fully revealed, and an appreciation for all that she does is inevitable. 

Caution for children younger than mature teens: there is a brief moment of male nudity, aside from regular vulgar language. For more information, go to www.artswest.org or call (206) 938-0339. Comments welcomed on this blog.