Ruff stuff

The Little Dog Laughed
Through Feb. 9 at Footlight Theater, the Parliament House
$12; 407-540-0317

In recent writings, I’ve repeatedly bemoaned the dearth of performance spaces in Orlando accessible to small theatrical groups. But a notable exception to the rule has been the Parliament House, thanks to the efforts of alternative theater impresario Michael Wanzie, who has been booking the Footlight Theater with shows that appeal regardless of orientation.

Margaret Nolan/Kangagirl’s production of The Little Dog Laughed is a prime example: Douglas Carter Beane’s 2006 comedy, under the direction of David Lee, has a lot to say about sexual identity and Hollywood politics, and a devastatingly funny way of saying it. Mitchell (Daniel Cooksley) is a leading man on the rise with an inconvenient penchant for getting smashed on scotch and dialing for rent boys. One night in NYC, in a post-award stupor, he unexpectedly falls for one: Alex (Jesse Lenoir), a prematurely hardened hustler with low self-esteem and a lingering semi-girlfriend (Brittany Berkowitz).

Bombastically battling to hold everything together is Anitra Pritchard as Mitchell’s agent Diane, in the role that won Julie White a Tony. While Diane elbows her client into an Oscar-bait role as a straight actor “nobly” playing gay, Mitchell threatens to derail the flick’s development by outing himself over Alex. Cooksley is marvelous as the self-denying Mitchell, a part that bears a kinship to his role with David Lee in last year’s Bent (co-produced by this writer), only with more jokes and fewer Nazis. Lenoir conveys a soulful numbness (“I wouldn’t be able to identify one of my emotions in a police lineup”), and Berkowitz scores with her precision “non-colonial Williamsburg” brand of cynicism.

But it’s Pritchard who gets the loudest laughs and juiciest lines; particularly in venting her very timely contempt for granting writers the last word. (“I’d rather give firearms to small children.”)

If the show has a flaw, it’s that the audience is so primed to laugh that the pathos of the finale is drowned out, though an elegiac Rufus Wainwright–scored slide show of Hollywood’s homosexual history (in and out of the closet) helped right things. The Little Dog Laughed is the kind of up-to-the-
minute, edgy theater that Orlando is hungry for, as evidenced by the packed house that ate it up opening night – so grab your dish and spoon and get some before it’s gone.

Seth Kubersky

As the Round Table turns

Launch 2008
Playwrights’ Round Table

The Writers Guild strike has grounded Hollywood like a faulty fuel sensor on the space shuttle, but here in right-to-work Florida, there was no scrubbing Playwrights’ Round Table’s Launch 2008 (performed Jan. 3-5). Last weekend’s bitter cold may have kept some away, but those who braved the chill inside Theatre Downtown saw a surprisingly strong series of original short plays to kick off the new year.

This was PRT’s 10th annual exhibition of local playwriting talent, and while past editions were sometimes notable for the unevenness of their execution, this year’s Launch, produced by Barbara Solomon, was the most consistently compelling I’ve seen yet.

Things took off with Stephen Miller’s Sandwich Artist, a witty tale of eBay, murder and sexualized cheese, featuring Corey Volence as a fractured fast-food visionary and David Almeida as the corporate suit harshing his buzz.

The consumables continued with Larry Stallings’ Harry and His Condiment Friends, the first of two entertaining pieces featuring Kimberly Luffman; Harry (Daniel J. Petrie) gives social pariah Donna (Luffman) a self-help lecture using a metaphor of mustards and mayos, leading to lines like, “You need to think of me like a mango chutney.”

In Chuck Dent’s knowing The Monkey Suit, Luffman returns as a sunny soccer mom who discovers her ex-fiance (Alex Carroll) languishing in theme-park-employee purgatory.

The peak of the evening, judging by a vocal audience, was Falling Leaves, Mick Leclair’s outrageously offensive (and unexpectedly emotional) story of an elderly couple (Leclair and Heather Ross) spending their autumn years gently abusing each other.

Even those pieces that didn’t achieve orbit featured talented performers like Brett Carson, Avis-Marie Barnes and Valensky Sylvain, and none outstayed their welcome worse than an average SNL skit. I’m looking forward to PRT’s Summer Shorts in July, and not just for the warmth. — SK

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