Douglas Carter Beane's satiric look at Hollywood duplicity and deception, "The Little Dog Laughed," is hitting the provinces, and while auds might not get every insider reference or bitchy zinger, there's still plenty to connect with in this story of four self-absorbed characters and their desperate pursuit of some kind of happiness.

Douglas Carter Beane’s satiric look at Hollywood duplicity and deception, “The Little Dog Laughed,” is hitting the provinces, and while auds might not get every insider reference or bitchy zinger, there’s still plenty to connect with in this story of four self-absorbed characters and their desperate pursuit of some kind of happiness.

The Hartford production gets a reality check — and some bonus subtext — with the casting of out (and once-outed) thesp Chad Allen (TV’s “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”) as Mitchell, the up-and-coming movie actor on the brink of stardom who falls for gay-for-pay New York rent boy Alex (Jeremy Jordan).

Allen’s performance grounds the often facile play in deeply felt human terms, showing the pain, confusion and narcissism of an actor coming to grips with the price of fame and sexuality. Playing Mitchell more as young turk than macho stud, Allen brings a boyish vulnerability, ego and panic to the part, rooting the role someplace real. Mitchell is practically atremble at the prospect of allowing this possibility of personal fulfillment to enter his life, and he’s terrified of the consequences of his tentative actions.

Though the hyper-rhythms of Julie White (who won a Tony as barracuda talent agent Diane) are instilled in the character, the role is still ripe for the fearless.

Candy Buckley seizes each moment with complete comic command. She does fine in the monologues but really comes into her own in scenes when Diane has other actors to bounce off. Whether she’s explaining why there is no country for gay stars, giving her word “as an entertainment industry professional,” or whipping up an 11th-hour match made in “Access Hollywood” heaven, Buckley, is an unstoppable force as the uber-agent of anti-change.

Mitchell also shows he’s a Hollywood pro at heart when it comes time to doubleteam with Diane to woo and win the trust of a gay playwright who has a hot property they want. The scene remains the dazzling centerpiece of the play, deliciously performed by Buckley and Allen.

Amanda Perez makes an impressive bow in the more schematically written role of Alex’s shallow, shopaholic girlfriend, Ellen. Perez brings a wide-eyed, almost sweet self-centeredness as the party girl from Westchester. “I wouldn’t be able to identify one of my emotions in a police line-up,” she says, but Perez deftly belies her too-cool “whatever” attitude.

Fresh-faced Jordan gives credibility to Mitchell’s dream by making his character sharp, confident and appealing. If he doesn’t suggest enough of Alex wounds to make his struggle with his sexuality — as well as his final decision — more of a bittersweet triumph, he at least makes it understandable.

Helmer Rob Ruggiero tempers the pace and quips by bringing heart to a play that skirts superficiality. He makes the show not just a glib exercise in Hollywood hypocrisy and Gotham ennui but almost a human comedy, too.

The Little Dog Laughed

TheaterWorks, Hartford, Conn.; 200 seats; $58 top

Production

A TheaterWorks presentation of a play in two acts by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Rob Ruggiero.

Creative

Sets, Adrian W. Jones; costumes, David R. Zyla; lighting, Thomas Dunn; sound, Zachary Williamson; production stage manager, Sharon Lynn Miner. Opened Feb. 1, 2008. Reviewed Feb. 3. Runs through March 9. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

Mitchell - Chad Allen Diane - Candy Buckley Alex - Jeremy Jordan Ellen - Amanda Perez

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