Theatre review: 'Little Dog' barks loudly with sarcasm

For the News-DemocratFebruary 12, 2014 

Despite the title's reference to the Mother Goose rhyme, "The Little Dog Laughed" doesn't have a sweet spot anywhere. But that's OK -- just don't bring the kids. Crackling with snappy repartee, this showbiz comedy is drenched in sarcasm with a double side of snark.

Pulling the strings with sassy glee is high-octane agent Diane -- Sarajane Alverson in a personal-best performance -- whose fierce commitment to her rising-star client Mitchell Green (Bradley J. Behrmann) means she'll mess with people's personal lives to get what she wants, in the interest of obtaining what she thinks they should want.

By now, this role could be a cliche, but Alverson makes her sparkle, a cynical realist who won't be underestimated by any mover or shaker, let alone confused youngsters in search of meaning in lives adrift.

The Tony-nominated Best Play, which first debuted off-Broadway in 2005, is at its best when Diane's firing on all cylinders, tossing zingers and arch remarks like free T-shirts at a stadium crowd. She hits many a bull's-eye, as the crowd gasps at her monologues delivered without a filter.

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane's nimble wordplay smooths over some of the plot's contrivances, for he knows how to skewer the entertainment industry, identity hypocrisy and ludicrous societal conventions.

While there have been advances in tolerance, this play is set during a time when many gay performers hid their sexuality for fear of being ostracized. Diane and Mitchell are in New York to woo a playwright-du-jour and secure his hot property for their vanity project. Drinking alone in his hotel room, Mitchell calls a service, and hustler Alex (Paul Cereghino) shows up. While the two are drawn to each other, they don't rush into a relationship, but that's ahead.

Only it's complicated. Alex mentions his girlfriend Ellen (Paige Hackworth) but their situation isn't easily defined. Diane goes ballistic when she discovers Mitchell and Alex, thinking everything they have worked for will be for naught if people find out Mitch is gay.

Diane's maneuvering to protect their careers is a work of art, and the glue that holds this witty sophisticated froth together, towering over the production. Julie White, who won a Tony as Diane on Broadway, and Erika Rolfsrud, who won a Kevin Kline Award for her dynamic turn at The Repertory Theatre's Off-Ramp in 2008, exemplify that this showy part is the kind that gets much attention.

The role often overshadows the others, but the three have their moments. It takes a while for the actors to settle into the rhythms of their characters. However, Hackworth as Ellen, elicits laughs for her shallow character's very specific opinions. Behrmann and Cereghino are convincing about their connection, if not their professions -- unfortunately, their characters aren't as sharply drawn.

Stray Dog's Artistic Director Gary F. Bell is the maestro overseeing this modern satire, with much finesse regarding the clever staging on their intimate set. He is aided by Tyler Duenow's superb lighting design and the functional yet chic set design by Rob Lippert.

You'll laugh to see such sport.

The Little Dog Laughed

When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday and Feb. 20-22, and 2 p.m. Feb. 22

Where: Stray Dog Theater, Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis

Tickets: $20 adults; $18 students and seniors

Information: StrayDogTheatre.org

Note: Mature content, recommended for adults

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