SALT LAKE CITY — The Little Dog Laughed is a contemporary comedy by Douglas Carter Beane. It follows the story of an up-and-coming Hollywood actor and leading man named Mitchell (played by Aaron Kramer). Mitchell faces the challenges of establishing his career while balancing what his agent Diane (Camilla Edsberg) describes as his “slight recurring case of homosexuality.” Throughout the play, Mitchell becomes involved with Alex (Derek Gregerson), a male hustler who falls for Mitchell, while balancing the relationship with his girlfriend Ellen (Alyssa Franks). The play is a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood and the entertainment business, where the private lives of celebrities are all the buzz among the tabloids. Playing in Salt Lake City as a co-production between Wasatch Theatre Company and Silver Summit Theatre Company, the play also explores the conflict between Broadway and Hollywood, particularly sympathizing with Broadway as it dishes many blows at Hollywood’s lack of artistic integrity and bastardizing of Broadway scripts in screenplay adaptations.
Director Brian C. Pilling did an excellent job of keeping the pace moving from scene to scene and helping each actor find the humor throughout. He also utilized the well-designed set (designed by Kit Anderton) to establish various locations seamlessly. The upscale hotel room as the central focus of the set, and adjoining platforms created interesting levels that provided clear storytelling. The lighting design by Danny Dunn was also nuanced and helped to accentuate the mood and focus of each scene. The costume design by Linda Eyring, however, was underwhelming and failed to enhance the world of the play or establish characters. For example, Mitchell’s wardrobe as a Hollywood “A List” actor was not convincing, and failed to exude the height of fashion of his status that Beane’s script frequently referenced.
The cast functioned well as an ensemble. The standout was Edsberg as Diane, who created a tough, no-nonsense talent agent that brought humor to each of her scenes. Edsberg gave Diane a direct communication and cut-throat attitude of ensuring that Mitchell would succeed regardless of who she had to step on or destroy on the way up. Diane epitomized moral ambiguity and the smoldering Hollywood elitist stereotype in a convincing manner. The scene with her and Mitchell convincing the playwright to give her the rights to his recent Broadway show to adapt to film was absolutely hilarious, and she and Kramer (who played Mitchell) nailed each moment of this scene, making it a highlight of the production.
Kramer had a natural and conversational acting style that was believable as Mitchell, and he was most successful in his scenes with Edsberg. However, he was miscast in this role, and I was not convinced that he was a Hollywood leading man in his appearance or mannerisms. This was especially apparent in his scenes with Alex (Gregerson). Though he and Gregerson found the comedy and performed their scenes in a natural manner, their chemistry was lacking, and I failed to see this relationship develop as the show progressed. Nudity is not frequently seen in Utah theaters, and both Gregerson and Kramer seemed uncomfortable with this making “that scene” come across as awkward for the actors rather than the characters and situation, which was crucial to its success.
By contrast Gregerson was much more successful in his scenes with Ellen (Franks). The two made a believable couple that enhanced the conflict of the play. The scene where Ellen reveals she is pregnant was especially poignant. Franks created an interesting character in Ellen, successfully executing both the comedic and dramatic moments throughout the show. Her frequent monologues to the audience were especially entertaining and well delivered.
The conflicts reach an all time high when Ellen discovers she is pregnant with Alex’s baby and the tabloids are reporting Mitchell’s relationship with Alex, threatening the film’s success. As the ultimate troubleshooter, Diane comes up with the perfect solution to solve all of their problems and finally convinces the other characters to deliver a fake yet classic Hollywood “Happily Ever After” to the public. Ellen will marry Mitchell as the picturesque Hollywood couple and have Alex and Ellen’s son (disguised as his own). To improve his image in the media, Ellen will be given all the money she needs to support herself and rise to fame, and Alex will be handsomely paid and work in Mitchell’s business as his “secret lover on the side.”
Audiences should appreciate opportunity to see a unique production with a talented cast and crew as the play successfully explores the emotional and social impacts of remaining closeted versus coming out through the eyes of Hollywood. Beane’s script is packed full of laughs and great one-liners while tackling a serious topic. Though the script may seem less relevant in many parts of the country, the issues explored are current in Utah where social pressures for some people largely demands a closeted life style.