Sea Ante: Seafarer?s King and Gero play cards and drown their sorrows.
Sea Ante: Seafarer?s King and Gero play cards and drown their sorrows.

Look, we can talk later about how it’s a near-perfect comedy of manners, and about how it has Wilde’s wicked wit and Shaw’s jaundiced eye and Coward’s way with words, but all you really need to know about The Little Dog Laughed is that its star is getting rapturous applause for her exits—and it’s not because the audience is happy to see her go.

No, it’s usually because Holly Twyford’s wildly entertaining Los Angeles talent agent Diane has just finished disemboweling a Hollywood-hating Manhattanite—with a few sharp words, of course, and a knife-edge smile. Or she’s just concluded a mocking aria on the topic of the Cobb salad and how, in certain Tinseltown circles, the ordering of same becomes a kind of neurosis-fueled, status-barometer performance art in its own right.

Whatever the circumstance in this gleefully acid Hollywood-meets-Broadway comedy, Twyford navigates brilliantly around the arch curlicues with which Diane describes her rarefied world, a place of backlots and boardrooms, power lunches and personal secrets, hungry deal-hunting and handshakes that mean less than a handjob if the contract language offers an out. It’s smart, showy, world-is-my-oyster language that owes a lot to the indomitable heroines of George Cukor and the inimitable spleen of Clare Booth Luce—or Truman Capote; not for nothing does that Breakfast at Tiffany’s homage have its place near the top of the show—and it’s an incalculable pleasure to hear it delivered with such snap, such authority, and such relish.

Of course, Little Dog is no solo show. One corker of a scene, in fact, is a mad Rube Goldberg contraption of a meeting involving a famous playwright, who remains unseen, and Diane’s thoroughly corporeal client Mitchell; the sequence couldn’t come off without impeccable ensemble work, and Matthew Montelongo, who’s worked twice with Twyford at Studio Theatre (in plays as different as Far Away and Black Milk), proves more than up to the challenge. The scene fizzes and crackles, the stakes and the smarm and the sub-rosa asides stacking up like a house of cards; it stays standing, triumphantly—but have no fear, the crash is coming.

Montelongo’s Mitchell, all thick dark hair and strong jaw, comes off like the George Reeves Ben Affleck played in Hollywoodland—a questionable talent a little out of his depth and prone to bad choices. Ivan Quintanilla’s Alex is soulful and winsome, if a whit less complicated than the character might need to be; he is, after all, a hustler who’s prepared to roll a drunk client, then fall in love with him, never mind the Larchmont girlfriend he’s got on the side. Casie Platt, as the Holly Golightly–ish pixie in question, does fine work with some of the script’s more self-consciously wistful moments, and director Michael Baron choreographs the transitions from direct-address monologue into dialogue scene and back without missing a beat.

For all the ensemble’s style, though, the show is structurally tilted in Diane’s direction; she’s both hero and villain, and as despicable as her worldview may seem, you won’t be surprised when she comes out (mostly) on top. Fortunately, Holly Twyford has rarely—perhaps in that glorious Twelfth Night back in 2003, at the Folger Theatre—been in better comic form, and never has she been more in command of a stage.