I like to think of myself as a fairly bitchy fellow, but the characters in Douglas Carter Beane's scathing comedy The Little Dog Laughed make me look like Strawberry Shortcake.
We meet Mitchell Green the night he wins a Golden Globe. Thanks to the ruthless brilliance of his agent, Diane, the long climb Mitchell (and Diane) have made up the movie-star ladder is just about to pay off.
Except for one teeny, tiny little problem. Mitchell, as Diane puts it, "suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality" -- i.e., every so often he gets drunk and calls up a male-escort service.
Diane doesn't really care what he does at night (she is, in fact, a lesbian); she just doesn't want him to be gay by day. The problem is that, in a first, Mitchell has fallen in love with his latest trick, Alex, and is threatening to come out of the closet. It's "all hands" time on Diane's battleship.
Beane (writer of the movie To Woo Fong ... and the play As Bees in Honey Drown) has come up with this blistering, acid-drenched eruption of venom and aimed it directly at a group of people who are both incredibly self-loathing and supremely egotistical. Each of the four characters (including Alex's sometime girlfriend, Ellen) want, at their core, nothing more than human connection. But they're so terrified of exposing that need that they mow down the very people with whom they could connect.
And they do it under some of the funniest, bitchiest, blackest humor imaginable. The laughs flow freely at Little Dog, but you hate yourself for finding such horror funny.
The play, a big success in New York two years ago, makes its Pittsburgh debut at Off the Wall Theater, in Washington, Pa. -- where I feel sure artistic director Virginia Wall Gruenert will be burned as a witch by the townsfolk for bringing this script (and several other equally incendiary but necessary plays) to such a quaint community.
Director Michael E. Moats leads a strong cast through this razor-wire obstacle course of a play. But though Rachel Downie, Chad McWreath, Alex Etling and Lauren Michaels have located the aching heart at the play's center, they haven't yet achieved its shatteringly sophisticated surface. Everyone's still a bit too earnest, and the forward drive seems to stall out in Act II. The twisted truth of this very twisted play is that the more vile everyone in it is, the more everyone else is going to love it.
The Little Dog Laughed continues through Dec. 19. Off the Wall Theater, 147 N. Main St., Washington. 412-394-3353. www.insideoffthewall.com