BWW Reviews: LITTLE DOG in San Antonio Chuckles But DoesnÂ't Laugh
In the opening moments of The Little Dog Laughed, now playing at The Playhouse in San Antonio, the sarcastically witty Diane, skillfully played by Emily Spicer, argues why a strong beginning is vital to any film. She extolls Breakfast at Tiffany’s for its strong start, which, especially due to Audrey Hepburn’s performance, is perfection until ruined by a bespectacled and be-buck-toothed Mickey Rooney playing the racial stereotype of Ms. Hepburn’s Asian neighbor.
Sadly Diane’s criticisms of Breakfast at Tiffany’s can be applied to The Little Dog Laughed as well. Little Dog starts strong and features a few incredibly memorable, original performances but is flawed by a yawner of a script riddled with clichés and stereotypes.
In Little Dog, by playwright Douglas Carter Beane, Diane is the Talent Agent to Mitch (Travis Trevino), a suave, handsome, boy-next-door type who is clearly modeled after George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta, in part because of Mitch’s profession and in part because of those pesky allegations of homosexuality. As Diane tries to secure an Oscar-buss worthy role for Mitch by obtaining the film rights of a hit play, Mitch falls for a male prostitute (Aaron Aguilar), and both have to grapple with how their feelings for each other force them to re-evaluate their straight sexual identity (more on that improbable plot point later).
With the character of Mitch, Travis Trevino is believable as the dashing “It Guy,” and there are a few moments—particularly in a scene between Mitch, Diane, and the unseen playwright they try to woo—where Trevino gets to show his comedic abilities. Trevino is likable and clearly has fun when his character gets to jump in the comedic sandbox with Ms. Spicer, but sadly the material doesn’t give him many chances to do so. Instead, Mitch spends most of the time reflecting, whining, and complaining about how uncomfortable he is about being gay. While Mr. Trevino is a fine actor, he gets a poorly constructed character to work with. It’s hard to understand why the audience is supposed to pity a multi-millionaire movie star who’s incredibly handsome and has a killer ass. Boo-f***ity-hoo, Mitchie. Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Boomer are making the gay thing work for their career. You can, too.
Aaron Aguilar fares worse as Alex, the male prostitute. Mr. Aguilar gives more of a read-through than a performance. He has little to no chemistry with any of his co-stars, and he seems as if he’s always waiting to speak his next line rather than reacting to the situations and his fellow actors. He’s not believable or appealing to the audience, and it’s therefore difficult to understand if and why Mitch is in love with, interested in, or even sexually attracted to Alex.
And as Ellen, the male prostitute’s gold-digging girlfriend, Amanda Golden gives a fine turn. She stumbles on a few lines here and there, but she is believable and amusing as a money-grubbing party girl. However, she’s not quite as believable in the second act in which Beane turns her into a jilted and now pregnant woman, but I would argue that’s more because the material turns Ellen into a weak cliché and less due to Golden’s acting abilities.
But as Diane, Emily Spicer delivers a star performance. In her capable hands, Diane is always witty, full of fantastic quips and one-liners, and often deliciously smarmy, vicious, and evil. Still, despite being a Super-Bitch, you undeniably like Diane and want to see her win. Ms. Spicer clearly relishes ever sarcastic line and makes every moment work without over-milking it. She is the reason to see this show.
Despite the mostly capable cast, Little Dog doesn’t entirely meet expectations, and that’s mostly due to the writing and directing. Though Douglas Carter Beane is a strong writer (his book for Xanadu is the strongest piece of the musical), Little Dog comes off as a juvenile attempt by a novice writer. Beane clearly doesn’t know what he wants his play to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it a dramedy? I’m still not sure.
In addition to being a piece with an identity crisis, it’s riddled with clichés. We’ve seen all of this before, and we’ve seen it done better. We’ve seen the handsome rich guy fall in love with a prostitute in Pretty Woman. We’ve seen closeted men who are clearly gay and can’t face their feelings for each other in Brokeback Mountain. We’ve heard about the Hollywood closet anytime we read a National Enquirer headline about Tom Cruise or John Travolta. We’ve seen the gold-digging party girl who gets pregnant and has to wrestle with her decision to abort or keep the baby. We’ve seen full-frontal male nudity, and though Ms. Spicer is sensational as the slimy agent, we’ve seen that before, too. Little Dog tries so hard to shock us with all of these elements, but nothing does.
The fact that Beane’s characters and script are incredibly uneven doesn’t help matters. While the piece tries to discuss hypocrisy in Hollywood, these characters are sometimes so hypocritical that the lies they tell themselves and others just don’t add up. Why is it that these two men, one who sleeps with men for a living and the other who admits he’s only slept with men and is outed to the audience in Diane’s opening monologue, still can’t admit that they’re gay? Why is it that after just a few weeks both of them seem willing to give up everything for each other when it’s often doubtful that they even like each other let alone love each other? How does Ellen go from being a superficial brat to a woman who wants to be a wife and mother with a white picket fence? With the exception of Diane, who is constantly motivated by money and control, the other characters change emotions, desires, and motivations more frequently than they change their underwear (something that Aguilar and Trevino do quite a bit of in the show), and the proceedings quickly descend into nonsense.
With all of the flaws of the material, Director Tim Hedgepeth has his hands full. Sadly, he isn’t able to make the grossly blemished script work. The comedic moments, particularly those featuring Ms. Spicer, work incredibly well, but the play strays into moments of melodrama where Hedgepeth lets things get sappy and sentimental, and those moments never ring true here. Instead of directing the show as a satiric comedy and social commentary, he directs it as a drama with a few comic moments. Instead of utilizing the hypocrisies and lies of the characters to comic effect, Hedgepeth tries to sweep them under the rug, which makes them all the more noticeable and unbelievable. Little Dog sometimes feels like three separate plays—the comedy about trying to get a film produced, the drama about two men realizing their feelings for each other, and the dramedy of a woman scorned. The result is tedious, overlong, and without a point.
In the few moments where The Little Dog Laughed is given the freedom to be comedic, satiric, and sarcastic, the play succeeds, but in the spots where it tries to get the audience to sympathize with the at best delusional and at worst despicably self-service characters, the play fails. Though Little Dog is partially redeemed by the fun performance of Amanda Golden and the electric performance of Emily Spicer, Little Dog is a pup that isn’t entirely housebroken.
PHOTOS: (Top) Emily Spicer and Travis Trevino in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED.
(Bottom) Aaron Aguilar (Left), Travis Trevion (Middle), and Emily Spicer (Right) in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED.
The Little Dog Laughed plays the Cellar Theater at The Playhouse in San Antonio now thru Sunday, August 26, 2012. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
For tickets and more information, visit http://www.theplayhouse.org.