Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wit enlivens play for sophisticated viewers only

Pictured top, left to right: Eric Brown as Mitchell and Patrick Wigren as Alex
center, left to right: Courtney Taylor as Diane and Rob Kowalski as the waiter
bottom, left to right: Hannah Eklund as Ellen and Patrick Wigren as Alex
Photos by Toni Holm

Olympia Little Theatre ends every season with an envelope-pushing production as part of their “Director’s Series.” This year they push that envelope with an adult-only show that includes sexual situations, brief nudity and adult language, not to mention a huge helping of cynicism. The show is Douglas Carter Beane’s 2007 Tony and GLAAD award-nominated play “The Little Dog Laughed.”

Billed as a comedy, this play is not all belly laughs. It’s a sophisticated and satirical look at modern life in general and Hollywood pretentiousness in particular. There’s a lot of seriousness underneath the jesting, and the jokes are more cerebral than visceral.

It’s an intelligent comedy that is staged with quick cuts and innovative scene changes that happen in full view of the audience. It also features smart, plucky asides addressed to the audience and to empty chairs or imaginary characters, such as an unnamed playwright referred to as “He Meaning Him.”

Director Toni Holm and lead actors Erich Brown as Mitchell, Courtney Taylor as Diane, Patrick Wigren as Alex, and Hannah Eklund as Ellen can be proud of a job well done.

Diane is a high-powered agent trying to land a blockbuster movie deal for her client, Mitchell, who is engaging in sexual acts with a male prostitute, Alex, while he denies being gay, as does Alex, who says he does it strictly for the money and has a steady girlfriend, Ellen.

Diane is the most cynical of all the characters. She refers to Mitchell’s attraction to men as a “slight recurring case of homosexuality.”

She and Mitchell make a deal for a play about a gay couple. She points out it will work because Mitchell is thought of as a straight movie star, so when he wants to come out publicly, Diane is against it and explains: “If a perceived straight actor portrays a gay role in a feature film, it’s noble. It’s a stretch.

It’s the pretty lady putting on the fake nose and winning an Oscar. When an actor with a ‘friend’ plays a gay role; it’s not acting, it’s bragging.”

The play starts out slowly and does not go for the easy laughs as the actors gradually establish their characters. It really gets going with the first sex scene between Alex and Mitchell, which is one of the funniest moments in the play, and which is handled tastefully.

The nudity comes about quite naturally, is fleeting, and should in no way be offensive to sophisticated audiences.

I mentioned earlier that scene changes take place in full view of the audience. This is one of many ways in which this play shines, letting the audience in on inside jokes. Cast members constantly break the fourth wall, the mythical barrier between the audience and the stage; i.e., the illusion that what’s happening on stage is reality.

Abby Wells, acting variously as a waitress and a maid, and Rob Kowalski as a waiter, do all the set changes and, in at least one instance, Wells mimes a conversation with Mitchell as she moves props.

Another way the cast breaks the wall is when Mitchell and Diane are talking to an empty chair representing the playwright and they periodically turn to the audience and tell them to drop the names of three gay actors or insert obscure theatrical references; or when Mitchell and Alex take turns popping up in bed like a Jack-in-the-box to talk about each other while each pretends to be asleep. Such scenes are cleverly written, and the timing and facial expressions on the part of the actors are delicious.

This is the last weekend for “The Little Dog Laughed.” Friday’s show is a special fundraiser for Capital City Pride. I highly recommend that you get your tickets before they’re sold out.

WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 1:5 p.m. Sunday through June 21
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or
INFORMATION: 360--786-9484,

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