'Little Dog' worthy of a packed house


The Little Dog Laughed

Phoenix Theatre

Directed by Bryan Fonseca

Through July 22

Summer is traditionally a slow time for the theater community, but right now Indianapolis has two fantastic shows on stage: the reprisal of Southern Baptist Sissies at Theatre on the Square and The Little Dog Laughed at the Phoenix Theatre.

While the premise of The Little Dog Laughed is similar to last November’s Straight Jacket at TOTS, playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s 2007 Tony-nominated play is everything Straight Jacket wanted to be but wasn’t: hilarious, smart and touching with a subtle dash of social commentary.

Mitchell (Michael Shelton) is an up-and-coming movie star who is gay. But his agent, Diane (Megan McKinney), who happens to be a lesbian, won’t let him come out because of the potential for negative publicity. This situation lends itself to Mitchell having to pay for sex. One night in New York, Mitchell, while very drunk, orders in a male prostitute and meets Alex (Chris Roe). Alex claims he is straight — he even has a sorta girlfriend, Ellen (Joanne Dubach), who dates old men for their money — but he is compelled to remain with Mitchell even though Mitchell passes out before anything can happen. Complications ensue.

The most entertaining of the four is McKinney, as the loud, manipulative but loveable spin doctor Diane. At first, I thought director Bryan Fonseca had McKinney playing her role over the top, but as you get to know Diane, you realize this is her inherent personality: Everything is writ large. And everything is scrutinized. One of the best among many great sequences has McKinney describing the intricacies of Hollywood types going to lunch and ordering a Cobb salad. As droll as that seems, in her hands it is high comedy.

Shelton’s character, Mitchell, is sweet and vulnerable. While he is achieving fame, Shelton lets the audience know that Mitchell is lonely and even a bit insecure. When Alex declines a drink, Mitchell looks at him and deadpans, “Why? Did life suddenly become beautiful?”

Roe, as the rent boy Alex, doesn’t get as many interesting lines, but embodies a confused character who thought he had himself figured out. Roe moves from ambivalent man-whore to questioning his sexuality, as well as feeling, along with Ellen, that his life is about to change forever, that he’s growing up, getting old at 24. This is exemplified colorfully when Dubach gets a monologue about her mother converting her old bedroom into a craft room: a story that is funny, yet sad — and easy to relate to for many people. This was Dubach’s best moment, as often in the show she unconvincingly tries to be abrasive.

Set designer Linda Janosko uses an almost Warhol-like backdrop of the cast’s headshots. The “image” of someone is the thing in this show, and Janosko’s use of the photos keeps that point alive.

Fonseca gathered a great cast and crew to create this first post-Broadway production, and the result is a show worthy of a consistently packed house. The Little Dog Laughed continues through July 22 at the Phoenix, 749 N. Park Ave. Tickets are $25; $15 for those 24 and under. Call 317-635-PLAY or go to www.phoenixtheatre.org for reservations.