Bas Bleu production of ‘The Little Dog Laughed’ an intimate look at Hollywood with as many laughs as tears

Heading in to see The Little Dog Laughed at Fort Collins’ Bas Bleu Theatre, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. The posters advertising it are full of white teeth and wide smiles — enough to give off a warm feeling without offering any information. Thanks to the design of Kevin Christopher Crowe, they are almost infuriatingly vague.

But after seeing the show, I must confess that Crowe’s simple design is perfect.

Written in 2006 by Douglas Carter Beane, this show centers around the charming Mitchell Green (Marcus Turner), and his agent, Diane (Sarah Gibson). It remains just as relevant as the day it was written. From the initial dim of the house lights to the final curtain, it serves Hollywood’s signature charm and scandal on a glittering crystal tray. I can almost guarantee there was not a dry eye upon the show’s finale, both from genuine sadness and hysterical laughter. Personally, my diaphragm was sore from switching between the two. But despite my aches, if I have to get on my hands and knees and beg you to see The Little Dog Laughed, I will do it.

The play unfolds surrounding Mitchell and Diane. They have agreed to put their careers first, sidelining their homosexuality to succeed in Hollywood. When they aren’t appearing at award shows or schmoozing writers, Diane strategizes and Mitchell hires male prostitutes to keep him company. While in New York to accept prestigious awards, Diane suggests Mitchell for a role that would elevate his career. There’s only one problem: The role centers around a gay man.

As Diane puts it: “When a straight man plays a homosexual, it’s noble. When a gay man does it, its bragging.”

They agree that Mitchell will remain in the closet to achieve the fame and fortune he craves. Everything seems to be going as planned until Mitchell meets, or rather, hires, a vibrant young man named Alex (Owen Whitham). With the exchange of a phone number, Mitchell’s smooth road to success suddenly becomes bumpy.

As Alex and Mitchell spend more time together, Diane struggles to keep the rumors of Mitchell’s alleged homosexual affair at bay. Mitchell’s strong commitment to his work begins to wither away. He delays his return to Los Angeles, he ignores the advice of Diane, and he considers a future in New York. Alex, both younger and aware of the world’s hardships, somehow lets himself be swept away. When Alex’s old-friend and intermittent girlfriend, Ellen (Jordan Stinson), discovers that she is pregnant, Mitchell must face the music. Or rather, the paparazzi.

Photo: William A. Cotton photography

Still an issue

What Diane describes as “a slight recurring case of homosexuality” can still make or break an actor’s career. There are countless cases of straight actors being praised for taking on homosexual roles. They win awards, they make a fortune, and their name cements itself into the American zeitgeist.

Doors are slowly opening to queer storytellers, but progress is slow. In a 2021 interview with the Sunday Times, Kate Winslet said, “I cannot tell you the number of young actors I know — some well-known, some starting out — who are terrified their sexuality will be revealed and that it will stand in the way of their being cast in straight roles.”

Openly bisexual actor Evan Rachel Wood is quoted in a 2018 IndieWire article, stating, “A lot of people advise you not to do it. They tell you flat out — ‘Don’t do it’ … They don’t want you to be less desirable to men. Because that sells tickets and that helps your career.”

Heterosexual actors are afforded a level of privacy and flexibility queer actors are not. It is a factor that determines their opportunities and their success.

This is why The Little Dog Laughed has such dramatic heft despite all the laughs. And it’s clear that the writers and performers know it. Each level of plot has its own metatextual context, and the characters are constantly breaking barriers — between themselves, the audience, the different settings, and reality. This disregard of traditional divisions emphasizes the themes of queerness and celebrity. In such a way that makes the audience furious at the disadvantages queer people face.

That being said, I was laughing so hard throughout the show I thought I was going to pee myself. In her debut performance at Bas Bleu, Sarah Gibson steals the show playing Diane. Gibson is sarcastic, blunt and hits all the right notes. Along the way, she’s inhabiting the part wearing fabulous dresses from costume designer John Hill.

Jordan Stinson is another standout performer. Her depiction of Ellen is the perfect blend of materialistic and grounded. Stinson crafted a character with such love that the chain of impulse-driven mistakes that follow her are not only forgivable, but relatable. Ellen, because of her flaws, was my favorite character. She made me laugh and she made me cry. And though her story should serve as a warning to thoughtless actions, one couldn’t help but admire her care-free attitude and devil-may-care lifestyle. Ellen ties the whole show together, thanks to Stinson’s strong performance.

The show is truly united in its technical aspects. Each character has their domain, and they interact as they move throughout their spaces. Brian Miller’s subtle lighting design ties colors to each piece of staging. The bold tones of yellow, blue, red and purple both separate the locations and unite the story. Mitchell’s bedroom is an intimate, cozy purple. Diane’s office is a vibrant, unforgiving red. Each color beautifully corresponds to its location.

These separate areas of staging are divided into five small rectangles around the room. Although small, these space broaden as the characters move throughout them. The show really manages to work as a cohesive piece. However, this does mean when something doesn’t blend perfectly, it really sticks out. For example, when Coldplay’s “The Scientist” begins in the show’s tender moments, it clashes with the overall gentility of the staging. Perhaps this is simply because of its recognizability, but I must confess it stole my attention from the action when it started to play.

I cannot recommend this show enough. If I had Mitchell’s budget, I would see every performance. It tickled my funny bone and touched my heart. If nothing else, it will inspire a need to purchase a dozen leather jackets (thank you John Hill). It’s delightful to those who enter uninformed, and a touching reprise for those more familiar with the show. Please, if you do nothing else this weekend, go see The Little Dog Laughed.