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November 30, 2011

Fells Point Corner Theatre bites into 'The Little Dog Laughed'

There is plenty of theatrical material to be derived from stories of closeted gay actors worried about discovery.

In his play "The Little Dog Laughed," which had a well-received run on Broadway in 2006, Douglas Carter Beane mines some of that fertile ground.

The playwright has created a spicy, wickedly funny scenario about a movie star named Mitchell, prone to a "slight recurring case of homosexuality."

That description comes from Mitchell's uber-agent, Diane, which has to be one of the juiciest roles to come around in years.

Holly Pasciullo dives into it with a vengeance to deliver a production-anchoring performance of "Little Dog" at the Fells Point Corner Theatre.

Although the rest of the cast doesn't quite match her assurance and flair, there is ...

enough energy in this staging, smoothly directed by Steve Goldklang on Roy Steinman's straightforward and rather harshly lit set, to hit the key notes effectively.

The plot finds Mitchell (Tom Burns) in a New York hotel with rent boys on his mind. The one who arrives, Alex (Chris Krysztofiak), is not quite what the actor expected. Despite the seamy side of the situation, serious sparks begin to crackle. But when Diane discovers that Mitchell may actually consider a career-threatening relationship, she springs into defensive action.

Meanwhile, there's the little matter of Alex's girlfriend (don't all male hustlers have girlfriends?). It turns out that Ellen (Emma Healy) has something to say that might affect the blossoming romance, too.

It's all pretty much regular sitcom territory, excepting the mature audience stuff (of course, there's nudity), but Beane's clever writing keeps things remarkably fresh. Even when the action takes a weird turn or two, the piece holds together. 

The playwright's understanding of the prism of sexual identity and desire shines through the comedy. And he sure does know the Hollywood crowd, skewering all sorts of things, from the one-upmanship ritual of the power lunch ("A Cobb salad with everything on the side") to the drafting of milk-every-penny contracts.

Diane symbolizes many hideous things about that world, but she's wonderfully cool about her calculated manner. And she's armed with so many cutting remarks (a sample: "Gay men hate all women, unless they're in black and white and suffering majestically") that it's a wonder there isn't blood all over the stage by play's end. You just can't help liking her.

Pasciullo, whose delivery has something of the snap that Megan Mullally brought to the similarly no-holds-barred Karen in TV's "Will and Grace," is delectably adept at revealing Diane's coldblooded streak. But she also makes it possible, if only for an instant, to notice the beating of what might be an actual human heart beneath the steely veneer. That helps confirm the richness of the play.

Burns doesn't exude the star quality that would make Mitch seem like such a big deal, but he neatly conveys the character's volatile case of nerves and his giddy flirtation with closet-busting.

Krysztofiak's work here is not as confident and colorful as it was earlier this season in the Glass Mind Theatre production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ "Den of Thieves," when he played an impetuous would-be thug. Still, the actor gets across enough of Alex's engaging, conflicted nature.

The character of Ellen has nearly as much tangy material as Diane, and Healy gives it quite an amusing spin.

The production runs through Dec. 11.


Posted by Tim Smith at 7:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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