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“Little Dog” has big bark

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A small, talented cast of four take the stage this month in the Stray Dog Theatre’s production of “The Little Dog Laughed.”

The show focuses on the unconventional relationship between a movie star (Mitchell, played by Bradley Behrmann) and a younger man he initially meets as a prostitute (Alex, played by Paul Cereghino). Both characters struggle with their identities, not willing to fully embrace themselves or their relationship.

Image courtesy of The Stray Dog Theater's Facebook

Image courtesy of The Stray Dog Theater’s Facebook

The women in the show consist of Diane (played by Sarajane Alverson), Mitchell’s aggressive agent who publicly plays the part of his lover to keep his reputation straight, and Ellen (played by Paige Hackworth), Alex’s sort-of-girlfriend-sort-of-not. It’s complicated.

And it gets more complicated as the two plot lines, which initially seem separate, catch up to each other and intersect, forcing all of the characters to make some heavy decisions.

Alverson and Hackworth deliver some strong, witty monologues to the audience. They verge on over-the-top, but it’s a comedy and the audience was laughing. Luckily, the women aren’t stuck doing comic relief and both women prove themselves versatile actors as the scenes get more serious near the close of the play.

As the story progresses, the relationship between Mitchell and Alex miraculously turns from questionable to adorable. Somehow Behrmann and Cereghino pull off what seems impossible from the moment the two characters met: they get the audience to root for them. It’s an impressive feat achieved by the combination of writing by Douglas Carter Beane and the actors present on stage, convincing the audience through their vulnerability and sincerity.

At its best, comedy is used as a mirror to make the audience recognize and laugh at problems in our society. That is exactly what this play is doing.

The show confronts stereotypes about gay relationships and celebrity. It calls attention to the public sensitivity to gay relationships when it forces the audience to intimately experience the ups and downs of the relationship between Mitchell and Alex.

This show gives insight into the world of Hollywood and celebrity. The conversations between Mitchell, his agent and others in the industry are laughable to those in the audience but not entirely relatable. With jabs at aspects of the entertainment industry, this show is no doubt funniest to those already familiar with the world of Hollywood. Still, the relationships and the emotions that come from them keep this story from being completely foreign.

A small but strong cast combined with simple but versatile staging gives this comedy its power.

The Stray Dog Theatre is located less than a 10-minute drive south on Grand Avenue from SLU’s campus. Located in the Tower Grove Abbey, the theatre uses a non-traditional space filled with pews and stained glass to give a unique performance experience.

“The Little Dog Laughed” is running until Feb. 22 with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for students and seniors.

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