Arts & Leisure

Be sad you missed this “Dog’s” tricks

CAST of “The Little Dog Laughed” at the Stage West Theater at Golden West College (Photo by Sylvie Nguyen).

By Thom deMartino

Whether in Hollywood or in life, it’s a very fine line between playing a role and disguising who you truly are … and sometimes the line becomes irrevocably blurred.

In “The Little Dog Laughed” at the Stage West Theater at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, wily and savvy Hollywood agent Diane (Jamie Sowers) has a near-Herculean task in her business trip to New York City. She’s determined to acquire the rights to a critically-acclaimed play about a gay relationship; convincing the overprotective author –”he, that is to say, him” – that his baby will remain unchanged when adapted for the silver screen… all the while keeping her number one client, Mitchell (Sean Hesketh) comfortably in the closet, and not spoiling his handsome, leading man-next-door appeal for movie audiences.

But Mitchell wants something different: or more to the point, he’s not even quite sure what he himself wants — and when the actor drunkenly calls up a local male escort service from his hotel suite, the young hustler who arrives, Alex (Erik Scott) can tell that he’s confused and conflicted… maybe a bit like himself.

“I’m not queer,” he tells his potential client, as both hide behind the assumed names “Brian” and “Steve”; “You’re probably not either — under the category of ‘straight, but curious’.”

Alex himself has a complicated but no-strings relationship with his sassy party-girl friend-with-benefits Ellen (Chelsea Caracoza). Their unconventional relationship is perhaps a cynical one, but without deception, physically or emotionally: he accepts that she has her much-older “sugar daddy” boyfriend, and he’s her playmate on the side; while she understands he’s “not really gay,” that his “rent-boy” status is just a job to him.

Yet his acquaintance with Mitchell, initially not physical, is developing into something much deeper emotionally. The two men begin letting down their defences, showing their vulnerabilities and truer selves to each other… each even relating their earliest same-sex experiences to the other. (“The merit badge that dare not speak its name…” quips Mitchell, about his earliest encounter years before in the Boy Scouts.)

Diane, however, has no intention of letting the budding relationship between the two men endanger either her client’s clean-cut image, or their prospective project: bursting into Mitchell’s room, she announces herself as “the woman who taught him how to love!” to the horrified Alex — really a cynical reference to the gentleman actor’s nod to her at an awards ceremony. And even Ellen is finding herself vaguely jealous of and neglected by her beau’s new friendship…

Can there really be any chance for happiness between these two kindred spirits who are finding themselves, or will it all just end in tears?

The rollicking Jill Cary Martin-directed comedy recently both opened and closed: and like the fragile sand mandalas that Diane alludes to in one of her many hysterical fourth wall-breaking asides to the audience, productions like “The Little Dog Laughed” at the Stage West Theater at Golden West College are there for a brief, fleeting instant.. then gone, their impermanence giving that much more depth of meaning and beauty to their ever-so-momentary existence.

The show had plenty of laughs and social commentary; but the real crime, if you didn’t see it, was missing the stellar acting and comic timing of the cast — four players, each distinct, unforgettable, and easily empathized with.

Mitchell, for instance, isn’t just eagerly indulging in his tastes privately; he’s troubled and conflicted — and it’s not so much a playmate that he wants, as a friend to confide in, to be his real self with. Hesketh comes across as very genuine and charming — a hint of Fred MacMurray’s awkwardness, mixed with comedian Norm MacDonald’s deadpan delivery.  Scott’s Alex is struggling to find himself, too: a complex individual, trying to come to terms with what he wants and who he is, defying the labels that society insists we emblazon upon ourselves.

Caracoza is more than just a supporting character, as the actress brings her witty comic timing and pathos — also deftly demonstrated in last year’s “Dog Meets God” — to the role of Ellen, a woman who wants something more out of life, yet remains locked in a standstill by life’s circumstances — though perhaps for not much longer. And while every performance in the show was stand-out, major kudos must be given to Sower’s Diane: her comic monologues framing the action, setting the mood, and establishing her as a shark in an ocean of pitiable prey. She will do anything to reach her goals, make any sacrifice — even at the cost of those around her — and is perfectly conscious and accepting of her choices, regardless how amoral.

It was a strikingly “meta” production, as the viewer begins to realize that the play being optioned by Diane – from “he, that is to say, him” – may well be the very same show that the audience is witnessing at that very moment. And while this show may have concluded its all-too-brief run, Stage West continues to dazzle with their edgy and timely productions at Golden West College — so be sure to keep an eye out for the next to come.

“The Little Dog Laughed”, Jamie Sowers, Sean Hesketh, Erik Scott and Chelsea Caracoza starred in this comedic production about the masks we wear, the true price of fame and freedom, and the compromises we make for both. Recently concluded its run at Golden West College’s Stage West Theater. 



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