When a production is billed as a comedy, it is not always clear what to expect. Frequently, audiences are treated to a farce, with lots of doors from which spouses emerge at inopportune times, or through which lovers and other problems are shoved, so as not to be caught on forbidden ground. Then there are screwball comedies, whose humor depends on bizarre situations, like Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn singing “I can’t give you anything but love, Baby,” to a leopard as they try to retrieve a missing dinosaur bone.
And then, hardest for amateur theater groups to pull off, there is the drawing room comedy, in which characters do a lot of talking, hoping that their rapier-like wit will make the audience laugh. Sometimes it does. Other times, unfortunately, the audience naps.
Nobody napped during a recent performance The Little Dog Laughed, Douglas Carter Beane’s work being staged by The Town Players of Newtown. I have heard, however, that a few people walked out at intermission, bothered either by the adult language, or else the adult subject matter which includes homosexuality. That was definitely their loss, for this production, under the sure hand of director David Bass, is a beautifully acted, thought provoking interpretation of what is actually a very serious play, by a major playwright who happens to infuse his lines with a vitriolic sense of humor.
The plot is framed by Diane, a Hollywood agent who represents an established movie star, Mitch Green, and who is soliloquizing to the audience about the time she and Mitch came to New York so that he could receive an award. Masterfully played by Karen Pope with the motor-mouthed vulgarity of a stand-up comic she explains how Mitch covered up his “little homosexuality problem” by pretending that she and he were a twosome.
Into this mix comes a pair of young hustlers: Alex, a male prostitute, and his friend Ellen, a wild child who steals credit cards from her wealthy sugar daddies. Hard-boiled and amoral — except for their genuine loyalty to one another — they see themselves as world-weary cynics, up for anything that will pay the rent. However things get complicated when what was supposed to be a paid one-night stand in Mitch’s hotel room turns into genuine attraction on both sides.
On a set dominated by an open closet (which remains unused, except as a glaring symbol), both men grapple with the issue of being homosexual. Alex must examine his belief that he is actually straight, and that gay sex is merely something he does for money. Mitch must choose between being open about his feelings for Alex , and protecting his career, which would tank if the public realized the truth
Todd Santa Maria gives a standout performance as Alex, who for all his purported “cool” is ultimately a babe in the woods when it comes to the morass of hypocrisy that is show business, where, as Diane helpfully points out, you can have whatever love life you want — so long as you keep it hidden. Lots of famous stars have “personal assistants” she tells Mitch. You just can’t bring him with you in public.
Miles Everett has the matinee idol good looks and charm that make Mitch appealing, however conflicted he might be, and Lisa Dahlstrom does a great job with the role of Ellen.
As I said, the play has many hilariously funny lines, which keep the audience laughing, but ultimately it is a serious and worthwhile piece of theater that confronts head on, the realities of homophobia, and the self-loathing that many gays feel in a society that disparages them.
Performances continue at The Little Theatre, 18 Orchard Hill Road in Newtown, weekends until May 25. Friday and Saturday evening shows begin at 8, and there is a matinee scheduled for Sunday, May 19, at 2 pm.
Tickets are $20. Call 203-270-9144 or visit www.NewtownPlayers.org for tickets and other details. As hinted at above, this play contains mature adult themes and language. It may not be suitable for those under age 16.