Playwright Douglas Carter Beane takes on Hollywood hypocrisy and the cost of fame in his clever new comedy, The Little Dog Laughed, which may be the tastiest treat in town. Directed by Scott Ellis with a crisp engaging style that mines all of the play’s tangy zingers, the evening is an audience pleasing feast.
The play deals with what the playwright describes as “sort of the last taboo…” being gay in Hollywood. Beane, one of the freshest voices on the theatrical scene, hasn’t scored a resounding hit since his 1997 critically acclaimed As Bees in Honey Drown, which took on similar territory, fame and those in search of its honey. In that play he created a marvelously duplicitous character Alexa Vere de Veer, who took advantage of artists. Now he has created a wickedly funny Hollywood agent, Diane (Julie White in a bravura performance) whose motives to win at any cost are even more deceptively unscrupulous. On the surface she is a shrewd deal maker possessed of well intended sincerity, but underneath is a Machiavellian monster. Her major client Mitchell (an excellent Neal Huff) is a leading man on the verge of stardom, who suffers from “recurring bouts of homosexuality.”
Diane has learned of a critically acclaimed new play with a major gay character, a property that could turn Mitchell into a matinee idol. Everyone knows a straight actor playing gay is a lauded artistic achievement. As the play unfolds, the two travel to New York to take in the play and convince the gay playwright that Mitchell is just the tonic to make his play into a hit movie.
In New York all sorts of complications arise, when Mitchell in a drunken stupor calls a rent-a-boy service and a young hustler Alex (a likeable Johnny Galecki from the TV show “Roseanne in his NY stage debut) is sent over. Alex only has sex with men for money and has a naive girlfriend Ellen (a fine Zoe Lister-Jones) on the side, who knows how he earns his living. What happens when Mitchell falls for Alex, who becomes equally smitten, is the grist of The Little Dog Laughed.
Planted firmly in the driver’s seat Julie White puts the medal to the pedal for an adrenaline spiked ride that is a laughed filled delight. She immortalizes a highly evolved cynical agent, a fast talking dynamo spinning on all cylinders, and makes quick maneuvers to keep herself several steps ahead of the pack.
The cast is uniformly wonderful, but if the fast passed direction doesn’t allow the actors to delineate the struggles inherent in their choices, I guess that’s minor quibbles. The smart evening remains a scathing indictment of not only Hollywood, but our society as well that is as refreshing as a vanilla float.
Second Stage Theatre has produced an outstanding show. Allen Moyer’s handsome set is simple, yet complex, like the story itself. He makes smart use of sliding panels, and there are two stacks of bamboo chairs on either side of the stage, reminding us of Diane’s comment about how much of her life has been spent sitting on banquet chairs during the numerous awards ceremonies she has attended. There is an elegant hotel suite concealed on an upstage platform, which moves smoothly downstage when needed and easily recedes back again carrying the actors along with it, as a gentle reminder that there are simultaneous lives to the action. The set mirrors the evening’s slick direction.
The play takes its title from a silly Mother Goose rhyme; Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
The Little Dog Laughed is now playing at the Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenues on Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. For tickets call 212-246-4422 or 800-766-6048.