- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2009

The title may come from a nursery rhyme, but Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed” is not for the kiddies. It’s closer to Fox Searchlight than to Disney, a delectably caustic comedy of manners that satirizes the movie industry and our citizenry’s relentless pursuit of happiness.

With the sophisticated sparkle of his writing, Mr. Beane is a throwback to such playwrights as Noel Coward and S.J. Perelman. His rapid-fire dialogue makes you want to hang onto every word of the vacuous and the frivolous, but behind the brittle gloss of his writing, there’s enough of a glimmer of compassion and empathy to keep things interesting.

Adding to the fizz of Signature’s production of “Little Dog,” directed by Michael Baron, is a dandy ensemble cast, which includes Holly Twyford, Matthew Montelongo, Casie Platt, and Ivan Quintanilla — who are more than up to the physical and mental gymnastics the comedy demands. They even manage to trump direction that favors the glib and often campy in a play that’s an outrageous comedy with a deepening sense of sadness in the second act.

“Little Dog” centers on an up-and-coming Hollywood star, Mitchell Green (Mr. Montelongo). Poised and on the edge of mega-stardom, the only thing that could get in his way is what his uber-agent Diane (Miss Twyford) terms “a recurring case of homosexuality.”

He comes down with a particularly stubborn strain while in New York trying to secure the film rights to a hit play, falling for a rent boy named Alex (Mr. Quintanilla) - who further complicates matters by saying he’s not gay either. To prove it, he produces a girlfriend, the downtown party girl Ellen (Miss Platt). No matter what they’re willing to call it, their feelings intensify and Mitchell starts to think he can buck convention and become an openly gay star who makes the ladies swoon and the straight men envious.

Diane is not amused by the modern remake of the movie “Maurice” unfolding in her client’s hotel suite. She’ll do anything to ensure that Mitchell stays in his luxurious closet and she goes at it hammer and tongs, coming up with a solution at the end that is breathtaking in its sheer genius and heartlessness.

With her kewpie-doll eyes and curls and forked tongue, Miss Twyford is perfect for the role of Diana. She’s like an Uzi in Armani — streamlined and honed and hitting her targets with pristine accuracy. Miss Twyford makes us fear Diane, and like her.

Where Miss Twyford’s Diane is hard edges and scathing sarcasm, Mr. Montelongo’s Mitchell has a chiseled physique harboring a restless heart. Mr. Montelongo does not make him a stereotypical dim-bulb Hollywood hunk, but rather a sweet and complicated man who is also completely self-serving.

Alex (sensitively played by Mr. Quintanilla as a well-armored hustler with morals) may have street smarts, but he’s no match for Mitchell’s epic ego and Diane’s piranha-like ambition. Far better suited for the likes of them is Miss Platt’s Ellen, a spiky and spoiled young woman who totters from one opportunity to another on designer heels.

No one gets the last laugh. Not even the little dog. In their quest for celebrity and external happiness, the characters in “The Little Dog Laughed” are given the world, but it’s a world constructed of secrets and lies.

STAR RATING: ***

WHAT: “The Little Dog Laughed” by Douglas Carter Beane

WHERE: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through March 8.

TICKETS: $44 to $71

PHONE: 703/573-7328

WEB SITE: www.signature-theatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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