In Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, the central issue is that Mitchell, a closeted gay actor whose star is on the rise, inches closer to coming out publicly on the cusp of a huge movie deal. His agent, Diane, is dead-set against it, though not because he's gay. In her opinion, he's neither established enough nor British enough to survive the fallout.
Oddly enough, the real world produced an analogue this weekend in Michael Sam, the University of Missouri football player who came out three months prior to the NFL draft. The papers are full of speculation about how this will affect Sam's future and what it means for the nation, which proves that in the decade since Beane wrote The Little Dog Laughed, America hasn't progressed much beyond the immediate scandal stage of high-profile homosexuals. But in a play, the outcome is scripted. In Stray Dog Theatre's production, a stylish and finely tuned endeavor, there are laughs and hope and broken dreams for all involved.
Mitchell (Bradley J. Behrmann) is handsome and young and in New York for an awards show. While drunk in his hotel, he orders a rent boy and gets Alex (Paul Cereghino). Mitchell soon passes out, which allows Alex to pillage Mitchell's wallet. But on his way out the door Alex pauses and returns the money, then settles down to stay the night. Cereghino does this all wordlessly, though it is clear that he sees something more than an easy mark in Mitchell.
The next morning finds the two of them in dire straits. Behrmann gives Mitchell an endearing earnestness as he tries to explain that he's not gay, just lonely. Alex is unbothered either way — but perhaps if Mitchell is so lonely, they could just hang out? Alex reveals he's not gay either, he hustles men only for the money. Alex's suggestion is a moment of genuine empathy, and it becomes tender after Mitchell rebuffs him; Cereghino makes the wound visible on his face for only an instant before again raising Alex's shields.
And yet the pair continue to see one another, building a bond and also eroding both men's confidence about their professed heterosexuality. Mitchell delays returning to Hollywood so that they can spend more time together — public time together. Rumors begin swirling about Mitchell's sexuality, threatening his picture project, and in sweeps Diane (Sarajane Alverson) to set things right. Diane is a Hollywood-style philosopher who likens Buddhist monks' contemplative construction of sand mandalas to "how showbiz people order salads," in that both are ultimately empty rituals. She's also a horrible, phony monster who sees people as either opportunities or obstacles. It's the sort of role Alverson dominates, making Diane's every utterance scathing, meaningful and funny.
Diane is herself a lesbian and seemingly understands Mitchell's predicament. How can he live a lie and be happy? But for an agent, business is business: The movie deal trumps all concerns. "You can win if you just shut up," is Diane's advice to her client. In other words, don't come out. Don't admit who you are or who you love and all your career plans will come true.
Director Gary F. Bell keeps the tension of Mitchell's decision fraught until the very end. Without spoiling things, everybody gets what they want but not everybody leaves New York happy. It's not an immediately satisfying finale, but it's an honest one. In that regard, it feels very much like a real-life ending.