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An auspicious Little Dog

by Jules Becker
Thursday Mar 30, 2017

The Little Dog Laughed, Take Your Pick Productions, Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, through April 8, 2017. 617-933-8600.

Will Hollywood finally accept out leading men? Also, does "Moonlight's best picture Oscar redeem an Academy that passed up "Brokeback Mountain" in favor of the mediocre "Crash"? These questions take on fresh resonance with new Hub company Take Your Pick Productions' wonderfully intimate Boston Center for the Arts revival of Douglas Carter Beame's still timely 2006 play "The Little Dog Laughed."

The talented out playwright ("The Nance," "Xanadu the Musical") had his own confrontation with Universal about turning his earlier play "As Bees in Honey Drown" into a screenplay. The Hollywood studio seemed to 'jump over the moon' to turn its Jewish gay novelist hero into a straight leading role for Leonardo Di Caprio. Despite threats of a law suit from Universal, Beame left the project-his integrity intact.

By contrast, Mephistophelian lesbian agent Diane in Beame's Tony-nominated play is prepared to do anything to conceal the sexual orientation of up and coming Hollywood actor Mitchell Green including accompanying him to major events. After meeting and spending time with an essentially decent and unassuming young man named Alex, Mitchell begins to believe that he is falling in love. For his part, Alex identifies himself as a straight man whose Westchester County girlfriend Ellen knows that he has sex with men for money. Whether bi-sexual or simply fluid in his relationships, he does come across as very comfortable with his own identity.

That comfort may be rubbing off on Mitchell, who clearly wants to spend more quality time with his new friend. To the consternation of Diane, he even invites Alex to accompany him to a play. Beame, who demonstrated his knack for complicated but ultimately clearly resolved plotting in "As Bees in Honey Drown," ramps up the tensions between Mitchell and Diane. A resourceful if sometimes ruthless agent, Diane is prepared to jettison much of a potential breakthrough stage part for risk-taking Mitchell and persuade the playwright to build up the actress' role. A surprising announcement by Ellen to Alex serves as a further catalyst for real moments of truth.

Will Mitchel throw caution and safe career choices to the wind with Alex? What impact will Ellen's announcement and own choices have on Alex? Will Diane impose her will on all concerned? Can she buy the happiness of others? As the play answers these questions, insights abound about the difference between success and true happiness. At the same time, Beame enriches his savvy play with a brilliant putdown of studio contracts talks and power lunches.

Not least of the play's pleasures is the vividly bitchy characterization of Diane. Her powers of manipulation and verbal cleverness rival those of con artist Alexa Vere de Vere in "As Bees in Honey Drown." Fittingly Beame has given the role a pivotal tirade about Hollywood hypocrisy and other outbursts that make the role a gem, one that rightly earned Julie White a lead actress Tony. Under Cassandra Lovering's sharp direction, Audrey Lynn Sylvia captures Diane's loneliness as well as her indignation and cynicism. A particularly nice touch of this thoughtful staging involves Sylvia facing theatergoers as Diane asks if everyone is happy. Her modulated performance keeps the often shameless agent from ever becoming a monster.

Victor Shopov is very persuasive as emotionally conflicted Mitchell. His verbal sparring with Sylvia's Diane has the right combination of fire and feeling. By contrast, Mitchell's evolving relationship and romance with Alex benefits from the strong chemistry between Shopov and Matthew Fagerberg as. Fagerberg finds Alex's likeability, remarkable transparency and poignant vulnerability. Aina Adler displays a cool as striking as Ellen's Mohawk and this sophisticate's rich attitude.

All four actors move smoothly around Marc Ewart's cleverly constructed scenic design as the characters' fortunes change. Michael Clark Wonson's lighting adds radiance to Mitchell and Alex's romantic moments.

Alex seems especially well-poised for a new beginning, and so does Take Your Pick Productions. "The Little Dog Laughed" proves a very auspicious debut.

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