There’s some deliciously nasty storytelling going on upstairs at the Hoffner Lodge on Hamilton Avenue in Northside thanks to New Edgecliff Theatre’s production of Douglas Carter Beane’s The Little Dog Laughed. That Mother Goose rhyme is a tip-off that the comedy is a piece of nonsense, but it’s more complicated than that. In fact, Beane’s arch script covers the waterfront from satire to melodrama. And four actors, mostly new to Cincinnati stages, do a great job delivering his razor-sharp writing.
One tiny caveat: The program sets the tale in “the present,” but it’s really the present of 2006 when it debuted. Back then a rising actor’s personal life — Mitchell (Nic Pajic) is gay and closeted — could be of profound concern to his fast-talking, acerbic agent, Diane (Kemper Florin, who is quite wonderful with numerous hurtling monologues). Today’s rapidly evolving attitudes about such matters makes Diane’s fears feel a tad outdated, but that doesn’t sink Beane’s glorious comedy of manners, something Noël Coward might have penned if he’d written plays in the 21st century.
Mitchell has fallen for Alex (Jared Earland), a male prostitute who begins to return the emotion. This makes the controlling Diane nervous for her hot property, as we hear in numerous direct addresses to the audience, hilarious, fast-paced volleys of neurosis and Hollywood “rules.” Matters get more complicated due to Alex’s relationship with Ellen (Erin Ward), an opportunistic party girl.
If these sound like shallow people, well, they are. But this strong cast grabs Beane’s text and gives it a crackle and snap that holds your attention — and evokes a lot of laughter in the process. Not only do we hear Diane’s anxieties and cockamamie notions of how things need to be done to ensure Mitchell’s success (and her own) delivered at fever pitch by Florin. The other characters have their own revelatory, confessional moments — sometimes rendered in choreographic counterpoint shaped by the simple device of lamps being switched on and off.
Lindsey August Mercer, taking time off from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company where she’s resident assistant director, staged the show. Working in the rather odd physical space at Hoffner Hall (NET’s temporary home while waiting for another Northside venue to be ready), she has assembled an entertaining evening of theater.
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre, continues through Oct. 11.