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Celluloid Closet

A gay movie star fights his demons in The Little Dog Laughed

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Sometimes, a single scene can justify your attendance at a show. Such is the case with The Little Dog Laughed, now at the Beck Center. But you'll have to wait for it.

This sneaky, snarky play by Douglas Carter Beane is about a film star, Mitchell, whose flickering fascination with gay sex is causing problems for his razor-edged agent, Diane. And under Scott Plate's propulsive direction, the humor lances all the right targets.

Mitchell is an on-the-rise actor in more ways than one, teetering on the cusp of a career breakthrough while calling gay escort services for cute rent boys. Once the young, studly, and bisexual Alex shows up, Mitch is ready to lay down his potential walk-of-fame status for some cozy time with this boy candy.

Meanwhile, the monetarily motivated Alex has a girlfriend, Ellen, who is busy abusing drugs while Alex is off bringing home the bread by bedding lonely gay chaps.

At the center of this battered triangle is Diane, an agent who has seen it all and stomps on most of it. She fires rancid cynicism in all directions like a paintball pro armed with invective instead of globs of Sherwin-Williams.

On the table is a hot script in which the best role is a gay male. Perfect fit for Mitchell, right? Ah, but not in Hollywood, that supposed la-la-land of sexual freedom where, even to this day, the number of out gay leading men can be counted on the fingers of zero hands.

The industry is still so uptight, you'd think that mid-20th century harpy/columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper were still dropping waspish innuendos about hidden homos, not to mention camouflaged Commies.

Anyway, Diane, forced to ignore the neat match of actor and character, wages a scorched-earth campaign to convince the "fag playwright" to butch up his limp-wristed lead while trying to cover up her client's sexual predilections.

Thrashing about in the underbrush of Hollywood exploitation and the byways of gay sex and homophobia, the play has a ripping good time with these familiar issues.

As good as the entire cast is, the show is stolen, carried off, and held for ransom by veteran actor Laura Perrotta. In an apparent attempt to become Cleveland's Benjamin Button by aging in reverse—wasn't she just playing grandmother roles at Great Lakes Theater?—Perrotta is a vital force of venal, high-heeled greed and dealmaking as Diane.

And here is the scene alluded to earlier: Her meeting with Mitchell and the unseen screenwriter is a small theatrical gem. It is so fast-paced, tightly written and wickedly sly you want to take it home on a loop, so you can play it over and over.

Phil Carroll handles Mitchell with casual confidence, although he doesn't quite exude the tweaky eccentricity of such a clandestine, high-profile gay guy.

Brandyn Leo Lynn Day is spot on as Alex, revealing his growing affection for his john Mitchell while fencing with Ellen in his non-working moments. And Lindsey Augusta Mercer is surprisingly affecting as she makes Ellen a memorable entity, even though she's looking in from the outside for most of the play.

The script flattens out a bit in the second act, losing the snap and slice of earlier scenes. But there is enough honesty to carry the production. This honesty extends to brief flashes of male frontal nudity that are handled matter-of-factly by director Plate.

As Diane says in an aside, "I wouldn't give a screenwriter final script approval any more than I'd give firearms to a small child." That's great stuff, delivered with toxic glee in this satisfying production.

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