In the opening moments of The Little Dog Laughed, now playing at The Playhouse in San Antonio, the sarcastically witty Diane, skillfully played by Emily Spicer, argues why a strong beginning is vital to any film. She extolls Breakfast at Tiffany’s for its strong start, which, especially due to Audrey Hepburn’s performance, is perfection until ruined by a bespectacled and be-buck-toothed Mickey Rooney playing the racial stereotype of Ms. Hepburn’s Asian neighbor.
Sadly Diane’s criticisms of Breakfast at Tiffany’s can be applied to The Little Dog Laughed as well. Little Dog starts strong and features a few incredibly memorable, original performances but is flawed by a yawner of a script riddled with clichés and stereotypes.
In Little Dog, by playwright Douglas Carter Beane, Diane is the Talent Agent to Mitch (Travis Trevino), a suave, handsome, boy-next-door type who is clearly modeled after George Clooney, Tom Cruise, and John Travolta, in part because of Mitch’s profession and in part because of those pesky allegations of homosexuality. As Diane tries to secure an Oscar-buss worthy role for Mitch by obtaining the film rights of a hit play, Mitch falls for a male prostitute (Aaron Aguilar), and both have to grapple with how their feelings for each other force them to re-evaluate their straight sexual identity (more on that improbable plot point later).
With the character of Mitch, Travis Trevino is believable as the dashing “It Guy,” and there are a few moments—particularly in a scene between Mitch, Diane, and the unseen playwright they try to woo—where Trevino gets to show his comedic abilities. Trevino is likable and clearly has fun when his character gets to jump in the comedic sandbox with Ms. Spicer, but sadly the material doesn’t give him many chances to do so. Instead, Mitch spends most of the time reflecting, whining, and complaining about how uncomfortable he is about being gay. While Mr. Trevino is a fine actor, he gets a poorly constructed character to work with. It’s hard to understand why the audience is supposed to pity a multi-millionaire movie star who’s incredibly handsome and has a killer ass. Boo-f***ity-hoo, Mitchie. Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Boomer are making the gay thing work for their career. You can, too.
Aaron Aguilar fares worse as Alex, the male prostitute. Mr. Aguilar gives more of a read-through than a performance. He has little to no chemistry with any of his co-stars, and he seems as if he’s always waiting to speak his next line rather than reacting to the situations and his fellow actors. He’s not believable or appealing to the audience, and it’s therefore difficult to understand if and why Mitch is in love with, interested in, or even sexually attracted to Alex.
And as Ellen, the male prostitute’s gold-digging girlfriend, Amanda Golden gives a fine turn. She stumbles on a few lines here and there, but she is believable and amusing as a money-grubbing party girl. However, she’s not quite as believable in the second act in which Beane turns her into a jilted and now pregnant woman, but I would argue that’s more because the material turns Ellen into a weak cliché and less due to Golden’s acting abilities.
But as Diane, Emily Spicer delivers a star performance. In her capable hands, Diane is always witty, full of fantastic quips and one-liners, and often deliciously smarmy, vicious, and evil. Still, despite being a Super-Bitch, you undeniably like Diane and want to see her win. Ms. Spicer clearly relishes ever sarcastic line and makes every moment work without over-milking it. She is the reason to see this show.
Despite the mostly capable cast, Little Dog doesn’t entirely meet expectations, and that’s mostly due to the writing and directing. Though Douglas Carter Beane is a strong writer (his book for Xanadu is the strongest piece of the musical), Little Dog comes off as a juvenile attempt by a novice writer. Beane clearly doesn’t know what he wants his play to be. Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it a dramedy? I’m still not sure.