The Little Dog Laughed 

Portland Center Stage at the Gerding Theater

I've never been particularly interested in watching men have sex with each other, but—here is something I NEVER thought I would say—Portland Center Stage's new show had the unexpected effect of making me reconsider my pornography viewing habits.

The Little Dog Laughed is a pointed little play about a hunky, closeted starlet, Mitchell (Brik Berkes. Brik!), forced to choose between his boyfriend and his career. The forcing is done by his agent, the wolf-in-cougar's clothing Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), who is unapologetic in her insistence that coming out will destroy Mitchell's shot at Hollywood success. Alex (Dennis Flanagan), the boyfriend, works as a callboy and has some emotional baggage of his own.

The relationship between Mitchell and Alex is woefully underdeveloped—some steamy makeout scenes serve as shorthand for emotional connection, which, okay, is still pretty fun to watch. And if Douglas Carter Beane's script seems too quippy at times (Mitchell had his first gay experience in Boy Scouts, where he earned "the merit badge that dare not speak its name"), at least most of the quips are genuinely funny: This is entertaining stuff, on a beat-by-beat level, and Beane has a few narrative tricks up his sleeve that unfold slyly in the play's final scenes. If the show doesn't exactly revolutionize the discourse about homosexuality in Hollywood, it at the very least cleverly lies some bald truths on the table.

Berkes turns in a solid performance as the rumpled, affable Mitchell, but Flanagan as Mitchell's twinkie boyfriend has an irritating, butter-wouldn't-melt quality that is either the result of a bad character decision or bad acting. Meanwhile, LaVecchia's performance as Diane is a waste of a great part. LaVecchia and Flanagan could take a few lessons from Natalie Knepp, who, as Alex's best friend and sometimes lover, balances self-awareness, cynicism, and vulnerability and makes it look easy.

Finally, Casi Pacilio's clunky sound design caters to the lowest common denominator, leaving little room for subtlety or interpretation, an unfortunate bit of heavy-handedness in what is generally a sharp, intelligently designed production.

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