The Little Dog Laughed | July 29 - Aug 1; Aug 4 - Aug 7 | Station Theater
$8: Wed | $10: Thursday & Sunday, $15 on Friday & Saturday
All shows at 8 p.m.
After 112 performances on Broadway and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play, Douglas Carter Beane's, "The Little Dog Laughed" finally made its way to Urbana's Station Theater. Choosing to perform a play with such notable history, it need not be stated that The Celebration Theater Company had some large shoes to fill.
The story centers on the relationship between Mitchell, the self-loathing, Hollywood actor and his male prostitute lover, Alex. The progress of their affair is stunted when Mitchell's agent, Diane, does everything in her power to keep Mitchell from revealing his homosexuality to the public eye, as she feels it will hurt his career. Also thrown into the mess is Alex's childhood friend, Ellen, a blonde, ditsy young girl, wishing desperately for love, friendship, and a link back to her childhood. In the midst of these conflicts, the question is often asked, (in the viewers minds as well as the dialogue of the play) how can everyone be happy?
To answer this question, Beane develops several themes throughout the piece. For one, how does one find a balance between personal thoughts and desires and still maintain the self-image or status constructed by society? I found this conflict prevalent in the scene where Mitchell and Diane are eating lunch in a swanky café, attempting to land a major motion picture contract with a famous New York playwright, ambiguously (and hilariously) called "He, meaning Him."
Throughout the scene, viewers are exposed to both the inner and outer monologues of both Mitch and Diane. On the outside, their presentations of self are uncomfortably happy, overly empathetic, and even slightly pretentious. On the inside however, we hear self-deprecating thoughts, jagged cynicism towards the entertainment industry, and bleak undertones of boredom with life in general. The overall effect is both funny, and thought provoking, as the audience experiences the stark contrast between a societal image, and what truly exists within.
Another complexity sewn into the play is built on the idea that in order to destroy one's societal image, one must take risks that pose threats to one's social life or career. This theme is apparent in the notorious sex scene between Mitchell and Alex. After a night of only sleeping alongside one another, Alex dresses himself to leave in the morning. On his way out, Mitchell awkwardly says goodbye, then suddenly grabs him for a kiss. The scene then progresses at a manic rapidity as Alex and Mitchell strip naked and begin to make love. Diane then bursts into the room, catching the two men in the act. The scene concludes with Diane hurling insults at Mitchell, reproaching him for his decision.
In this situation, the audience is left shocked, yet encouraged by the action taken on stage. It is noted that Mitchell took a risk by spontaneously deciding to act on his inner desires, momentarily forgetting his movie star image/status. Diane however, seems to represent the societal repercussions that come form being caught in such an act, while she is indirectly presenting an opportunity for Mitchell to defy such outside influences and follow what will truly make him happy.
Beyond the hard analysis of the storyline, I feel it important to comment on the Station's production of the play itself. For one, the set designer, Wes Huff did a particularly good job expressing many of the themes noted in the section above. The stage set up was simple; a warm, yet decadent bedroom placed center stage (complete with fur covers, leopard skin headboard, and a liquor bar) and two, undecorated, dimly lit platforms placed on either side. All of the intensely personal and emotional scenes took place in the bedroom, while scenes where the characters were forced to feign an image or deal with distractions involving career or a certain pregnancy took place on the side stages. To me, the side stages represented a distraction from what was truly important, while the bedroom was a place of reality and refuge, a place where self-images were not of total importance.
The costumes (decided on by Thom Schnarre) were also an interesting addition to the production, as they added depth and humor to the characters. For example, Alex is often seen wearing superhero themed underwear. On the surface, this hilarious and a wonderful recurring joke throughout the play. On a deeper level, it represents his tendency to be a loyal and strong willed character willing to stand up for himself and the people he loves.
The performances themselves were a joy to watch. Mitchell (Casey Long) did a wonderful job playing a confused man, struggling between his career and sexuality. He portrayed a great sarcastic wit, while still maintaining the ability to pull off the softer, more emotionally driven scenes.
Alex (Rob Zaleski) held a fantastic, boyish energy that kept the play moving and entertaining throughout. He expressed a relatable naiveté and desperation that comes with first love, and was one of the few characters that portrayed a vague sense of integrity in the face of severe opposition.
The character of Ellen (Katie Baldwin) had a fragile composition. That is, she was played in a subtle contradicted manner, expressing both a need for comfort and friendship as well as the need to establish a strong personal identity beyond that of a young girl. The end product was somewhere between very humorous and also very tragic.
Finally, Diane (Chris Taber) was a knock out! The character was played as sleek, manipulative, jaded, and even sexy. She had a way of presenting her lines that seemed to communicate with the actors on stage as well as with the audience. Her jokes were both vicious and sidesplitting, and acted as the glue that made this play a success.
On the whole, the play is written with sharp dialogue, acidic humor, and emotionally challenging concepts. Furthermore, The Station (not surprisingly) did a respectable job tacking this play with its daunting record by recruiting talented actors and technicians. It's definitely an endeavor worthy of a Saturday night.