Thursday September 13, 2012

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. --Douglas Carter Beane's "The Little Dog Laughed" is a smug, not-nearly-as clever-as-it-pretends-to-be comedy about the nature of celebrity and the shallowness and instability of personal relationships in the world of moviemaking. Sound familiar?

A poodle in pit bull clothing, "The Little Dog Laughed" lacks the brute bite of John Patrick Shanley's snarling Hollywood diatribe "Four Dogs and a Bone," especially in the by-the-numbers treatment Beane's play is being given at The Theater Barn.

"The Little Dog Laughed" deals with an ambitious Holly wood agent named Diane (the glorious Melissa Macleod Herion in a robust, stylish performance); her closeted actor client and friend of longstanding, Mitchell (an acceptable, if also cautious, Jimmy Johans meyer); his newfound, possibly serious, boyfriend, a hustler named Alex (an inconsistent and aslo cautious Justin Rugg), who sleeps with men for money while, at the same time, firmly denying he's gay; and his relationship-challenged girl-friend- with-benefits, Ellen (an inconsistent Ruth Kennedy).

Diane has found a promising Broadway play, a love story involving two men, that she wants to buy as a screen property for Mitchell. The key rests in Mitchell maintaining his butch, action-hero public image, even as he and Alex fall into something resembling love.

Even as Diane coaxes the playwright into giving her the movie rights to his play by promising that his script will not be changed for the screen, the scent of betrayal hangs in the air.

Part of the problem with director Bert Bernardi's production is that Mitchell and Alex' relationship doesn't play truthfully. Neither Johansmey er nor Rugg master the often conflicting, contradictory feelings that flow between and within Mitchell and Alex. Their expressions of love ring hollow. The chemistry simply isn't there.

In addition, the production's pacing is uneven and Beane's writing is far too precious and contrived for its own good.

Herion is the charm. She understands and rides Diane's high theatrical style for all it is worth. With Herion, this little "Dog" not only laughs, it sings.

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Bert Bernardi; set design, Abe Phelps; costume design, Jimmy Johansmeyer; lighting design, Allen Phelps. Through Sept. 23. Eves.: Fri., Sat. 8. Mats.: Sun. 2. Tickets: $24, $22. The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y. (518) 794-8989. 1 hour 57 minutes Diane Melissa Macleod Herion

Miitchell Jimmy Johansmeyer

Alex Justin Rugg

Ellen Ruth Kennedy