The company continues its tradition of presenting provocative shows that entertain as thoroughly as they inspire conversation. The show also delivers an abundance of laughs and witty dialogue delivered with deft timing and artful expression.
Sarajane Alverson, as Diane leads an excellent cast in one of her strongest performances to date. She is glib and glamorous, and bold and ballsy, all appropriately mixed with a certain earnest appeal. She is also pushy, presumptive, and oh so pretentiously L.A. in the funniest sense of the stereotype.
Alverson manages to create a shrewish manager with an edge of genuine likeability and a penchant for honesty, enabling her to develop an intimate rapport with the audience. Her precise patter and easy, offhand manner, combined with steely resolve, makes it easy to embrace a character you know you shouldn't trust.
Bradley J. Behrmann is unnervingly smooth and sympathetic as rising movie star Mitchell. He's a near lethal combination of insecurity, bravado, and alcohol, yet he manages to retain an endearing quality.
Behrmann wears his emotion and confusion on his sleeve; his personal and professional conflict playing a powerful tug-of-war with an ambitious reach that's cheered on by Alverson's Diane. I sincerely wanted Mitchell to embrace his own reality and happiness, and Behrmann's performance as he battled with himself was imbued with a wistful grace.
Paul Cereghino pushes the vulnerability of Alex, delivering a powerful, emotionally connected performance. Set up as a hustler with a possible heart of gold, the character Cereghino delivers is considerably more nuanced and conflicted. His acknowledgement of his sexuality is both frank and surprised, and it works. Overwhelmed with an emotional and physical connection he's never felt so intensely, his character undergoes a significant change, revealing a "hustler" who is likely the most loyal, straightforward and trustworthy character in the show.
Paige Hackworth, a relative newcomer, holds her own with this talented cast of more familiar faces. Her Ellen is, as Alverson's Diane astutely notes, a bit of a party girl and opportunist, but Hackworth finds the layers and contradictions in the character. Ellen is cunning, fiesty, and confident enough to go toe-to-toe with Diane, even if only for a moment. In all her scheming, Hackworth infuses Ellen with a decency that suggests survival rather than malice provides her motivation.
Gary Bell's direction is considered, but never dull or contrived. He keeps the pace using the various levels of the stage to put us in and out of the moment with were used to expert effect. The difference is not at first apparent and, initially, the height of the secondary levels was a bit disconcerting to me, but it unfolded beautifully within the story and was a surprisingly effective choice.
The scenic design, by Rob Lippert, and lighting, by Tyler Duenow, were integral to overall tone and sensibility of the production. The plush hotel room filled the stage proper, while the sliding doors and spot lighting on the elevated platforms distinctively placed the exposition "outside the moment." Bell's costumes effectively conveyed character traits and personality; all the technical production elements work in concert to support the show with a thoughtful and well-crafted style.
"The Little Dog Laughed" may put Hollywood in its focus, but it raises questions we all face at some point in our life: how far are you willing to bend to achieve success? Stray Dog Theatre's production runs through February 22, 2014, for more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.