The Little Dog Laughed
By Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Scott Ellis
The Kirk Douglas Theatre, LA
November 16 - December 21, 2008
Photo: Craig Schwartz.
Just when you might have thought it was not safe to buy a ticket for LA theater along comes The Little Dog Laughed. Thoroughly vetted in New York from its start at the Second Stage off Broadway, and a move onto the big white way, here is a piece of smart, perfectly paced, stunningly designed, thoroughly entertaining theatre right in your own back yard.
The night belongs to Julie White. A whirlwind? A tornado? Neither quite does justice to her treatment of Diane, a Type A+ Hollywood agent with razor sharp wit, rapid-fire delivery, and monomaniacal intensity. She has a choice property, handsome emerging movie star, Mitchell Green (Brian Henderson), and a shot at bringing a currently hot Broadway play by "him," [aside to the audience] "the famous author" to the big screen. Her whole being is bitchily, manipulatively, maniacally focused on the prize. There is just one problem, Mitch's "slight recurring case of homosexuality." Mitch does not make it easy for her. He has not even come out to himself. The part in the movie property Diane covets for him is a gay guy, but Diane is convinced that if Mitch, already a heart throb, himself comes out the movie will be relegated to the inconsequential art house category (think Siberia). She also intends to do something about that ending "'he' meaning 'him'" wrote for the stage version. She wants Mitch to be someone women want to be with and men want to be.
As the play opens, Mitch is loaded, in his slick New York hotel room, with a rent boy the reality of which he cannot acknowledge to himself -- the situation, not the rent boy. The hotel room itself is a marvel and the overall set by Allen Moyer as slick, clever, and polished as the rest of the play is tightly directed by Scott Ellis.
Diane speaks to us, the audience, as much as she engages in dialogue, alternating frequently between the two; scenes with her talking to the playwright on her Bluetooth round our information. Her pronouncements come from anywhere on the stage including cubby holes above. The brittle alternation between narration and dialogue fit the subject perfectly. You feel like Diane is letting you in on her world. Beane's writing brings to mind the clever turns of a Noel Coward on speed. Certainly no sitcom ever moved this fast or contained this much meat, and it is hard to imagine anyone else who could fill Diane's Manolos (or whatever hip brand they are). Whisking around in 4 inch heels as though they were running shoes, wearing clothes that epitomize grown-up sexy business chic (go try to figure that one out), she manipulates the other characters seen and unseen to achieve her Holy Grail: making this movie she thinks will be a blockbuster.
Diane wants the playwright, "him," to make the lead turn out to be straight -- she does this after getting "him" to sign a contract with which she is thoroughly familiar and about which "he" is thoroughly naive.
Mitch has become involved emotionally -- to the extent that a wooden narcissist can be emotionally involved -- with rent boy, Alex (Johnny Galecki). Alex, who thinks he is straight and just turning tricks for money, in turn, has a girlfriend, Ellen (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is also a disaffected lost soul and who just happens to get pregnant. Diane, with her girl scout honor badge in manipulation and keen ear for opportunity, manages to get Alex to leave -- money helps -- and have Mitch publically proclaim Ellen's baby to be his and for them to be very publicly wed in time for the release of the movie. Honestly, it works better than Tom Cruise's jumping up and down on Oprah's couch. Diane, incidentally a lesbian herself, is the woman other women may secretly want to be and the woman men want to bed.
Is it too much to celebrate in one month: a president-elect who speaks in whole sentences and paragraphs, and Beane, a playwright who understands how to edit himself and write humor with intelligence? Often when screen or stage send up Hollywood or the theater world it is easy to feel like an outsider and to miss many of the digs. Part of Beane's skill is to write so any audience can feel like insiders. If there is a weakness in The Little Dog Laughed, and this is nit picking, it happens in the second act where Mitch, Alex, and Ellen purport to have emotions. Given that they are all immature and self-centered it may be more a reflection of their shallowness than an aspersion on Beane's writing or Ellis' direction. The mood does not last long. Diane of the wicked tongue and wily ways is there to help everyone live happily ever after. She ends The Little Dog Laughed in just the way she manipulated "him," the famous playwright to change "his," the playwright, story. She has reached the Holy Grail; she will make the movie.