‘Little Dog Laughed’ is funny and poignant | SummitDaily.com

‘Little Dog Laughed’ is funny and poignant

What does the pursuit of happiness entail – staying true to oneself or conforming to societal standards? When the heart longs for love and professional success, sometimes people must choose between honoring honesty and playing it safe.

Actor Mitchell Green (Jeremy Make) is on the brink of making it big, but he has one minor problem: He’s gay. Well, sort of. Only when he’s drunk. Well, sometimes when he’s sober, too.

His closeted lesbian agent, Diane (Kelly Ketzenbarger) is about to close a film deal for him, but she needs Mitch to be straight, so women can lust over him and men don’t “feel superior” to him, as they would if he were gay, she explains. She also needs the director to rewrite the script, minimizing the prominence of the relationship between two gay men, lest the film end up only showing in art houses.

Enter hustler Alex (Reymundo Santiago), a “for rent” prostitute Mitch dials up while traveling. Alex isn’t gay either; he simply pleasures men to make bank. The 24-year-old has been best friends with Ellen (Kelsey Cooke) – whom he also happens to have sex with – since high school. She accepts his lifestyle, and even uses an older man on the side for his money. That is, until things get complicated.

Ellen reveals veiled jealousy when Alex spends five days with Mitch – unpaid.

The triad becomes even more involved in the second act, and it’s up to Diane to solve a more than sticky situation in a way that can only be termed subversive, as Mitch defines it.

“The Little Dog Laughed,” the latest presentation by Lake Dillon Theatre Company, blends humor, poignancy, awkwardness, sadness and heart-wrenching situations into one superbly produced piece.

Summit County local Ketzenbarger’s character comes the closest to slapstick comedy with her portrayal of a high-powered Hollywood agent bent on doing anything it takes to control Mitch’s career, and therefore his personal life. She depicts the maniacal, tightly wound manager perfectly. In fact, artistic director Chris Alleman thought of her immediately after reading the script.

However, he searched outside the area to cast the three other roles. Make hails from Denver, and both Cooke and Santiago traveled from New York City to fill the parts. Alleman also hired Santiago for Dillon’s summer repertory, during the theater’s New York City auditions.

While all of the actors perform their roles in compelling manners, Santiago particularly shines by fleshing out the depths of his character, tough and vulnerable.

Make and Santiago seem to be naturals at negotiating the convoluted and uncomfortable transition from deep denial of “being gay” to not only engaging in sexual acts, but also admitting how much each cares for the other. Their interactions are intensely touching, as well as incredibly funny, on both an intellectual and emotional level. With the mix of sentiment, the production flows easily and quickly, yet may leave audiences with an emotional weight with which to wrestle.

This is the first time the Lake Dillon Theatre Company has presented a play revolving around homosexuality, and Alleman sees it as an opportunity to produce something new and push the boundaries, both in subject matter and perhaps the biggest buzz: full nudity.

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane requires all theaters to produce the show with full male frontal nudity. When one theater in Chicago did not comply, Beane shut the production down until it presented as written. He also demanded the director write a letter to the editor and apologize to all patrons.

Alleman admits the brief nudity can be construed as a bit gratuitous, but it also serves to symbolize Mitch’s evolution. Also strongly symbolic are the walls of the set, painted in large fisheye lens graphics, which, by definition, create an oval image that contains an increasing amount of distortion from the center to the periphery.

Indeed, as the characters move away from their centers of truth in an effort to conform to societal standards, the fisheye becomes even more intense, resulting in an outstanding commentary on the pursuit of happiness, complete with all of its human complexity.

“Full male frontal nudity.”

That’s all artistic director Chris Alleman had to say to bring me front and center.

OK. So maybe that’s not the whole truth. I actually positioned myself in the second row, off to the side (farthest from the bed on stage) because, being one of four audience members (and the only female) at Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal, I felt a little shy.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

When Alleman auditioned actors in New York City for “The Little Dog Laughed” and the summer repertory, he asked “Little Dog” candidates if they were comfortable fully disrobing on stage. Many asked questions like, “how big is the (theater)?” and “how close is the audience?” But Reymundo Santiago, who Alleman ultimately cast as Alex, nonchalantly replied, “it’s no big deal; I’ve done it before.”

But when it came down to completely stripping and facing an imaginary audience during this week’s rehearsal, Santiago admitted that it was the first time he’d ever been naked outside of a bedroom, and that he was a little nervous.

“Wait a minute,” Alleman said. “I thought you said you’d done it before.”

“Yeah,” Santiago replied. “I wanted the job.”

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