Comedy is hard, especially the kind of comedy in New Edgecliff’s THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED. It’s wordy, it’s sometimes sophisticated and sometimes crass, but its always clever, sharp, and cutting. And it takes a great team of actors to pull it off well. Luckily, director Lindsey Augusta Mercer has assembled a terrific cast, whom do just that.
This is the story of a emerging movie actor, just on the cusp of tremendous fame, and the agent who is trying to help him (and benefit from his success, too, of course). There’s only one problem – he is struggling with this sexuality and has a taste for rent boys in the middle of the night, especially once he’s been drinking. One of these male prostitutes becomes more than a one-night hookup and this complicates things for all involved. Especially because the rent boy has a girlfriend. Or an ex-girlfriend. It’s not quite clear to either of them. But isn’t that sometimes the nature of relationships? That things are often complicated when it comes to love. That’s really what the point playwright (Douglas Carter Beane) is hoping to make and he does a nice job without being heavy handed about it.
Nik Pajic plays “Mitchell,” the movie star. Jared Earland is “Alex,” the rent boy. The agent, “Diane” played by Kemper Florin and “Ellen” (Erin Ward) round out the four person cast. Pajic is a relative newcomer who like his character has burst onto the scene and is really making a name of himself. Recently playing Billy Bibbitt in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and with a role in the soon to be released movie, “Carol,” this fine young talent really shines in his scenes with his co-stars. His chemistry with Earland feels authentic; they are quite a duo. Earland is becoming Cincinnati’s go-to guy for angst-ridden, complex characters. He is very good; I’d love to see him do something completely silly soon and really show off his range. The depth of “Alex” is in the strength at his entrance and his trepidation at the end.
Florin has some of the best moments in the script and she makes the most of them. Hilariously using her heel to emphasize a point more than once, she held my attention and reeled off some very difficult lines with ease especially as the play developed over the evening. I was most impressed by the stage presence and performance of Erin Ward; her character gets told she “has an edge” and I think that’s true of the actress herself. She is just a little bit dangerous, like you don’t quite know what she might do. I love that and I can’t wait to see more.
The set, which takes over the hardwood floor and balcony in the Hoffner Lodge is well done; with great use of lamps and stage lighting by Jim Watson to focus the audience’s attention where it needs to go. It’s an inventive staging, taking the non-traditional space and making good creative choices within its confines (and lack thereof).
My only real complaint with the show is in the pacing of the scene where Mitchell and Alex become intimate for the first time. It feels rushed, too fast, and like they wanted to hurry up and get it over with. But its an important scene in the context of the play, because there’s something symbolic going on there especially for Mitchell’s character. That symbolic gesture, referenced in a scene or two before, helps tell the audience something about Mitchell’s progression in the discovery of his sexual identity. I get that in conservative Cincinnati, audiences might not be too keen on a more explicit moment . . . Oh well.
Overall, this is a funny, touching, and thought provoking night at the theatre. New Edgecliff has once again produced a quality play, with some of the best actors in town; I hope audiences will go see it.
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED plays through October 11th at the Hoffner Lodge in Northside. Tickets and more information can be found here.