Bowen Boxleitner: Alex (Michael Boxleitner) tries to understand how he can have feelings for up and coming actor Mitchell (Blake Bowen) in The Little Dog Laughed. Rehearsal photo.
Contemplate Love: MItchell (Blake Bowen) contemplates the meaning of love while in bed with Alex (Michael Boxleitner) in The Little Dog Laughed. Rehearsal photo.
Keller Bowen: Diane (Deb Keller) and Mitchell (Blake Bowen) try to convince a playwright to let them adapt his play for film during rehearsal for The Little Dog Laughed.
LANSING – While the studio system of controlling the lives of actors has faded, the cultural taboos and carefully crafted images remain. In Riverwalk Theatre's upcoming production of "The Little Dog Laughed" by Douglas Carter Beane, the modern world of the 24-hour news cycle and shifting acceptance of gays and the cult of celebrity all come into sharp contrast.
"The production shows how complicated love can be," says Michael Boxleitner. "You see how much it helps you and how much it hurts."
Boxleitner, 19, plays Alex, a hustler who has caught the attention of Mitchell, an up-and-coming and semi-closeted gay actor. Mitchell is portrayed by Blake Bowen, 35. Complicating the budding romance between the hustler and the actor is the pushy protective agent, Diane (Deb Keller). Cassie Little rounds out the cast as Ellen, Alex's girlfriend.
"It has a tremendous amount of heart," says director Michael Hays. "Love is love regardless of sexuality. It's a light look at that, and you end up rooting for all four characters."
Hays says the show will be very funny – particularly for members of the LGBTQ community.
"The LGBTQ community will identify with the angst the main characters are going through," he says.
For Bowen, the show is a contrast to similar queer-related theater from the '90s, which he characterized as focused on AIDS. "It's rare to have a show like this," he says. "We're not carrying a cross anywhere."
"I feel like there's this idea, this example of self-examination: Who are you going to be and how are you going to let people see you," says Keller, who also teaches acting at Lansing Community College.
She says the script drew her attention because of the writing, which she compared – in terms of the rhythms and the necessary breathing support – to Shakespeare. She was also excited about the character, whom she said has many strong needs she pursues throughout the show.
Little says she "loved" the script when she first read it.
"Reading it was funny. The dialog was smart. I liked that it breaks reality, yet it is such a real look at relationships and Hollywood and celebrity," she says.
Boxleitner and Bowen, who both identify as straight, share intimate scenes on stage, one involving oral sex. For both, it was no big deal.
"They had chemistry very early on," Hays says. "They just decided themselves that they would kiss; I didn't even know it was going to happen."
Boxleitner's name might be familiar to some readers. He is the son of science-fiction acting favorite Bruce Boxleitner. His mother is Melissa Gilbert, best known as Laura Ingalls Wilder from the TV classic "Little House on the Prarie." His stepfather is Timothy Busfield, an East Lansing native.
"The Little Dog Laughed" is a Black Box Theater production at Riverwalk. The space seats about 100 people. The show runs 8 p.m. Feb. 27-28, 2 p.m. March 1, 8 p.m. March 6-7, 2 p.m. March 8. Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 for students and seniors.