Little Dog’ delivers big laughs

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While not as deliciously convoluted as his previous comedy seen locally, “As Bees in Honey Drown,” Douglas Carter Beane’s “The Little Dog Laughed” is quite funny enough, thank you very much.

Now receiving its Bay Area premiere at the New Conservatory, the four-hander about Hollywood homophobia involves amiably ambivalent movie star Mitchell, who’s secretly gay, and his ambitious, barracudalike agent, Diane, who wants to keep her client conveniently stuffed in the closet.

The two Angelenos are in New York angling to buy the movie rights to a Broadway play for Diane to produce as a vehicle for Mitchell.

The snag is that the play, by an (unseen) playwright referred to as “He meaning Him” — meaning, of course, and quite amusingly, Beane himself — features gay characters. As does the play we’re watching.

When Mitchell, ensconced in an Oriental-accented hotel room (slick set by Kuo-Hao Lo), falls for rent-boy Alex, Diane goes ballistic.

At the heart of this witty satire about movie-industry hypocrisy and the soul-sucking price of success is a sweet love story that involves broken promises and more than one broken heart.

Director Ed Decker keeps the lengthy play moving briskly, and despite some uneven casting, he also keeps the laughs coming.

Michaela Greeley, clearly in her element as the devilishly sardonic and cynical agent, gets the funniest, and most wickedly insightful, of Beane’s lines. On opening night she drew howls from the largely gay male audience with comments like “all gay men hate women unless they’re in a black and white movie and suffering majestically.”

When He meaning Him asks for her word that she won’t alter his script, she comments about giving a writer final cut: “I’d rather give firearms to small children.”

Less satisfying in this production are the deeper elements, including the male-on-male passion. Matt Socha as a puppy-dog-eager yet woefully conflicted Mitchell, and an appealingly low-keyed Justin DuPuis as the equally conflicted prostitute, each have some fine moments, but seem more emotionally honest when they’re not trying to demonstrate their mutual lust.

And there’s an overall tendency among the cast to push for laughs.

Never mind, though. He meaning Him’s sly script’s a winner in any case.

THEATER REVIEW

The Little Dog Laughed

Presented by New Conservatory Theatre Center

Where: Decker Theatre, 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 8
Tickets: $22 to $40
Contact: (415) 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org

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