“Half the people in Hollywood are dying to be discovered – the other half are afraid they will be” – Lionel Barrymore, actor.
In Dominion Stage’s funny production of Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed, directed by Matthew Randall and produced by Rachel Alberts, we are welcomed to Hollywood’s cut-throat reality and a close-up of its grip over a fame-hungry actor tired of living a lie. Mitchell (Jeffrey McDermott) is on the cusp of a big break and wants to have the cake and eat it. Diane (Karen Jadlos Shotts), his ruthless agent, is adamant; he can’t have both. He is wrong and she is right. He is either a dreamer or simply daft. She is ‘all business’ and knows what works. “You can win if you just shut up.” She is an expert on what counts in the movie business. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s message is clear – coming out in Hollywood is a tough and risky move. In the words of English Film Critic, Barry Norman, “If Rock Hudson was at his peak today and openly gay, would things be better? Probably not (…) the movies would have little to do with him.”
We meet Mitchell in a New York hotel, in bed, with a man, Alex (Mike Rudden), who happens to be a male escort. Both profess their heterosexuality, with Mitchell blaming loneliness for his occasional same-sex experiences. It all sounds plausible. After all, Alex has a girlfriend Ellen (Claire O’Brien) and Mitchell has not had a proper relationship with a man. Yet, despite the appearances theirs is not a one night stand. The budding relationship delays Mitchell’s return to Hollywood and forces his agent Diane to take the matters in her own iron hands clad in silk gloves. And that’s where the modern comedy of manners takes speed, providing us with valuable lessons about life and relationships, making us laugh and reflect on things that really matter.
What will Mitchell do? Before we find out, the play takes us on a journey through human strengths and weaknesses, keeping us in suspense with unexpected complications and emotional twists. We see four characters and four relationships, two of which, Mitchell/Diane and Mitchell/Alex are driving the plot, tugging for a win in a war in which happiness and integrity struggle with success and deception. Although the decision rests with the protagonist who insists on a win-win outcome, will he be strong enough to oppose the powerful force of an unscrupulous and success-obsessed Diane, for whom the chosen end justifies any means, and for whom private lives, including her own, play no part in the race to the top.
Karen Jadlos Shotts makes a strong mark as a perfect embodiment of a successful top Hollywood agent as the elegant, sharp, and brazen Diane. Fully in character when trying to hide Diane’s cunning and commanding ways behind a feminine façade of an impressive wardrobe, sun glasses and scarfs, Shotts charges ahead from scene to scene, generating laughs with witty lines, which abound in the play. Jeff McDermott is also impressive as the vain, capricious, weak Mitchell, torn between love and fame. Mike Rudden is moving as a bisexual young male with a ‘dirty’ job and a pure heart. Claire O’Brien brings Ellen’s character to life with vigor, humor, and conviction, evoking our empathy and understanding of the character’s motives and choices.
Sound Designer Rob Batarla and Lighting Designer Sean Doyle contribute to the production’s success, with their use of lighting and blackouts complements the set design by David M. Moretti, by hiding the focal point of the set – the hotel bed, and creating alternative locations by shifting focus to other parts of the stage, and by utilizing Hollywood melodies and songs that greet us and are present during intermission. “Moon River”-from Breakfast at Tiffany’s-reminds us of the lure of money and Alex and Ellen’s difficult life circumstances and choices. Costume Designer Shawn G. Byers does a fine job dressing up Diana, Ellen, and Mitchell and creating a young, casual urban look for Alex.
The ending of this clever comedy will take you by surprise, generously rewarding your anticipation and ending the suspense with self-reflection. What would you do if you were Mitchell, Ellen, or Alex? If you want to find out and are hungry for a good adult comedy with thought provoking themes, good music, and Hollywood vibe, The Little Dog Laughed is not to be missed!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
The Little Dog Laughed plays through May 10, 2014 at Dominion Stage performing at Theatre on the Run -3700 S Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, Purchase tickets online.