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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Little Dog Laughed at Arts West

Also see David's reviews of A Great Wilderness and The Foreigner


R Heather Hawkins, Alex Garnett and Jeff Orton
Douglas Carter Beane's play The Little Dog Laughed is a too clever, oh so insidery look at the foibles, fictions and machinations of show-biz, and remains to me as relatively laughter-free a vehicle as the production Intiman Theatre mounted a half dozen or so years back. But at Arts West, director Annie Lareau has softened its bitchy humor with an underlay of charm, paced the proceedings with pepper and spice, and cast appealing smart actors who endow their paper-thin characters with a dollop of humanity.

Beane's already dated fractured show-biz fairytale casts a jaundiced eye on the lengths a controlling, manipulative lesbian publicist will go to in order to reign in a long-time, primed for big-time success actor client, who may risk coming out of the closet, just when she is about to land him a role of a lifetime in a stage to screen version of a hit Broadway play. It seems the actor is falling hard and fast for the considerable charms of a metrosexual Manhattan rent-boy who is still involved with his streetwise scammer of a girlfriend. Will love trump career? Does the girlfriend have something the rent-boy can't get from the actor? Will the witchy publicist cum fairy godmother cast a spell to keep everyone happy? That we care at all (in a world where Neil Patrick Harris and others have challenged the gay = career suicide theory) is due to director Lareau and her company investing their characters with some core humanity and tenderness barely hinted at in Beane's text.

Jeff Orton steals the top honors as Alex, a hustler with a heart of gold who can't resist one more night and then another with the handsome actor who was supposed to just be a trick. Orton never strikes a false note and develops a believable relationship with Alex Garnett's charming and convincing Mitchell, a nice guy who wants it all, but may be willing to settle if it means a bigger piece of the Hollywood pie. Orton and Garnett play off each other well, and handle a shared moment of full-frontal display with ease, which smoothly sets up one of the show's few big laughs. EmilyRose Frasca as the girlfriend Ellen finds just the right balance of warmth and wisecracking. In the huge role of Diane, Heather Hawkins sometimes mistakes brassiness and volume for deeper character insight, but finds Diane's gentler side charmingly when Beane lets her peek out at us.

Scenic designer Jenny Littlefield captures the smooth, character-less charm of big-city hotel suites, and John Allbritton's costumes are tongue in chic delights.

The Little Dog Laughed runs through February 16, 2014, at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave SW. For tickets go to www.artswest.org or call 206-938-0339.


Photo: Michael Brunk



- David Edward Hughes



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