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A CurtainUp Review
The Little Dog Laughed
-- The review of The Little Dog Laughed during its Off-Broadway Run --
Both plays are about whorish professions. In Shaw's drama that adjective fits the title character's field of endeavor and also the attitude and financial practices of the more respectable members of Victorian British society. In Carter Beane's freshly minted comedy, the whore being scrutinized is the Hollywood machinery that champions deception both on screen and in the behind the scenes deal making. In the Hollywood saga, as in Mrs. Warren, there's only one character who can literally be tagged as a flesh peddler. And that character, a young male prostitute, comes off as the least whorish in the four member cast of people whose moral code is a lot flabbier than their abs. Carter Beane's entrepreneurial counterpart to Mrs. Warren is an ambitious Lesbian agent who, as portrayed by Julie White, just about steals the show.
Lest you get the wrong impression, a quick caveat. Playwright Beane who is also founder and artistic director of the trendy theater company, Drama Dept, is a man of considerable talent and wit. But D.C.B is no G.B.S.
Mrs. Warren's Profession is just one of Shaw's many social dramas that remains trenchantly timely and entertaining to this day. The Little Dog Laughed, which just opened at the Second Stage, is an amusing send-up of Hollywood where, Brokeback Mountain notwithstanding, coming out for an actor can still be something of a taboo. Judging from the enthusiastic audience at the performance I attended, it will more than likely extend past its announced January 29th closing date. However, it's a zillion miles short of the depth needed to make it a likely candidate for the canon of plays to resonate with future generations of theater goers.
As in his Drama Dept hit, As Bees in Honey Drown (see link below), Carter Beane once again looks at fame and the human bees eager to taste its honey at any cost. The slightly ambiguous title this time takes its cue from an enduringly popular Mother Goose nonsense 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). Best of all the playwright has again created a terrific role for an actress. And as J. Smith-Cameron extracted every bit of honey from the role of Alexa Vere de Veer, so Julie White mines all the gold from Diane, the barracuda agent.
Delivering Diane's long opening monologue which sets the scene is a challenge that calls for perfect comic timing. White not only rises to that challenge but expertly navigates the plot complications that follow.
Those complications revolve around Diane's determination to have Mitchell, her movie star client, cast in a Hollywood adaptation of a hot New York play. Since the play is about a love affair between two men, Diane knows that the fact that her client "suffers from a slight case of recurring case of homosexuality" should be kept under wraps. But just as Diane and Mitchell's trip to New York to sweet talk the playwright into wanting him as the lead and her as the deal maker bears fruit, Mitchell who's kept his sexual preferences under wraps since his first homosexual experience as a boy scout (as he puts it, "the merit badge that dare not speak its name") seems headed out the closet door. The cause? -- his one night stand with Alex, a male prostitute who also deludes himself that he only peddles himself to rich men to pay the rent (which prompts his girl friend to dub the pseudonym he uses on these jobs as his "nom du shtup".
With Diane's scheme to make Mitchell a super star and herself a true power broker threatened, leave it to this crafty lady to not only divest the never seen playwright of all control of his material ("A writer with final cut, I would rather give firearms to small children") but to become the good fairy who manages to bring about a happy ending (shades of the nursery rhyme title) for Mitchell, herself -- and also Alex and his girl friend.
White handles the wicked witch/good fairy maneuverings so perfectly that by contrast Neal Huff, a fine actor (you may remember him as the spot-on narrator in Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out), seems miscast as Mitchell, the pretty boy not quite Grade A actor. Johnny Galecki's Alex, though occasionally touching, and Zoe Lister-Jones' Ellen is a convincing downtown hip type, but they too fail to be equal parts rising cream to White's stellar Diane. Consequently whenever White leaves the scene, everything tends to fall a bit flat until she returns.
Under Scott Ellis' crispy-crackly direction the audience, like the little dog of the title, is nudged to respond to all the zingers -- including a running joke about Hollywood types ordering a cobb salad -- so that they leave the theater smiling even if not fortified with anything to give them food for further thought. The production values are excellent, as is typical of this handsome, stadium seat theater. Allen Moyer's set is at once simple and elaborate, with its clever sliding panels, a roll-out bedroom and a proscenium consisting of two stacks of the bamboo chairs that have Diane ruminating about just how much of her life has been spent sitting on them during various awards ceremonies. There's even a mobile mounted above the front right section of the orchestra that not only illustrates the nursery rhyme title but the a room in the home of one of the characters over whom Diane has waved her marvelously manipulative good fairy wand.
To read our reviews of As Bees in Honey Drown when it played off-Broadway go here; to read the review of a Los Angeles revival go here
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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