The Little Dog Laughed | Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

 

 

Off-Ramp Series
Grandel Theatre, St. Louis

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Rob Ruggiero has directed two Off-Ramp shows, both of which netted him Kevin Kline Awards, and he’s hit another home run with Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed. In fact, his direction makes this seem like a better play than it actually is, and a talented ensemble realizes his vision in high style. It closes Nov. 30, so if you haven’t seen it, head to the Grandel sometime this week.

Problems before accolades (because there are a lot fewer of the former): The play itself occasionally veers awkwardly between moments of hilarity, often scatological, to some serious stuff: homophobia, loneliness, sexism and possible childhood abuse among them. Most of the time, the cast is able to make these rapid emotional shifts, but in a couple of places, the otherwise impeccable Erika Rolsfrud (Diane) doesn’t pull off the transition. These incidents happen in the first half of Act I, though, so they are not difficult to forget. More significantly, the plot is ultimately a bit contrived and the end is predictable.

Mitchell (Chad Allen) is the center of the story, or he would be if Diane and Alex (Mark Fisher) didn’t keep stealing his scenes. Mitchell is a movie star (although not too well known apparently, since Alex doesn’t recognize him when they meet) who has, according to his agent (and beard), Diane, "a little recurring problem with homosexuality." The fact is, he is as gay as an Easter bonnet, but he’s never been in love. Enter Alex, a prostitute who introduces himself as "[your] nephew Bryan" due to a miscommunication about what Mitchell wanted to role play. Alex does not consider himself gay and, in fact, still has a sexual relationship with his friend Ellen (Lindsey Wochley). A poignant moment is her narration of making love with Alex and realizing he is not thinking of her.

Mitchell and Alex click in a way neither expects, and Mitchell decides he wants a relationship. Alex warms to the idea, but it doesn’t sit well with Diane, and when Diane’s not happy, as the saying goes, "ain’t nobody happy." Rolfsrud is a force of nature in this part, and her objection to Mitchell’s coming out is deliciously ironic, since she tells us at the outset that she is a lesbian. Diane provides narration to bridge scenes (as does Ellen) and helps guide us through the plot, even breaking the fourth wall to announce intermission, and again to begin Act II (including a clever reminder to turn off cell phones). She and Mitchell are in New York to collect an award (which Mitchell dedicates to Diane as, carried away by his emotions, he declares his love for her). They also have a date to discuss a film with a playwright in which Mitchell might play the lead: a gay man. The lunch scene with said playwright (who isn’t corporeally present) is a tour de force for Allen and Rolfsrud.

If I were to discuss all the good stuff these actors bring to the stage, this review would go on forever. Fisher is spot on as the conflicted Alex who thinks he turns tricks with men just for the money, but is actually "not gay." Wochley is sweet and sad and very funny as the girl Alex leaves behind, even though she loves him dearly.

Adrian W. Jones’ set is a modernist marvel using every inch of available space to create playing areas, including a fully realized luxury hotel room for some scenes, but a simple chair or bench for others. Lighting and sound design are equally impressive.

David Zyla’s costumes enhance the look of the piece and, especially on the women, illuminate their characters. One example: When Diane comes onstage alone in the beginning, she’s wearing a killer evening gown, burgundy with ruffles and ruching, diamond chandelier earrings and a bracelet to match. "Beginnings are always beautiful," she says, and she personifies that observation.

This play closes the Off-Ramp season which consisted of only two shows instead of the usual three. But, unlike last year’s rather safe choices, both The Little Dog Laughed and The Lieutenant of Inishmore pushed the envelope to the point where the envelope might have considered pushing back. So, well done, Repertory Theatre; I can’t wait to see what you come up with next fall. | Andrea Braun

 

The Little Dog Laughed runs through Nov. 30 at the Grandel Theatre. Ticket prices start at $15 and top out at $50 with plenty of levels in between. For more information and to make reservations, call the box office, 314-968-4925, or visit online at http://www.restl.org/.

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