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The Little Dog Laughed
by Rob Kendt

The strongest and most durable relationship outlined in The Little Dog Laughed, Douglas Carter Beane's brittle new comedy, is between a soft-edged actor, Mitchell (Neal Huff), and his diamond-hard Hollywood agent, Diane (Julie White). A professional bond that trumps all other entanglements is true to Beane's acerbic point about showbiz commerce and compromise, but I think the playwright also intends us to care about his characters' attempts to form extracurricular attachments.

©2006 Joan Marcus
Julie White & Neal Huff in
The Little Dog Laughed
No dice. Instead, as he showed in his similarly undernourished and overpraised As Bees in Honey Drown, Beane has the wit's curse: a congenital mistrust of sincerity which can be as distancing as it is bracing. On the plus side, this is clearly what attracts him to colorful dissemblers and larger-than-life machers like the starmaking Alexa Vere De Vere in Bees or Little Dog's more profane and reality-based Diane, whose epithets for an obstinate writer range from the truculent "inconsequential stain" to the rather more abstract "pumpkin hose."

Few playwrights write this brand of robust, mercurial, can-do broad with the assured relish that Beane does; he conveys an utterly infectious, almost innocent thrill at razzle-dazzle, which has a better ring than the truth. And while Diane can be a crude and grasping operator, the formidably cheery White puts a delicious bounce in her bite.

Story continues below

The debit side of such brilliance is the shadow into which it casts Beane's more earthbound characters. In this case, the unlucky also-rans are the unassuming Mitchell, a callow hustler he falls for, Alex
©2006 Joan Marcus
Johnny Galecki in
The Little Dog Laughed
(Johnny Galecki), and the hustler's sort-of girlfriend, Ellen (Zoe Lister-Jones). Beane maps some interesting territory in the budding romance between Mitchell and Alex, both of whom are conflicted about their sexuality in ways that can't be neatly summed up as mere denial.

Huff and Galecki tenderly limn the resistance and release, the push-pull, of these two reluctant lovers. But their halting two-step into open-hearted bliss isn't just threatened by the straight Hollywood ending mandated by Mitchell's impending stardom; it's also shortchanged by what feels like the play's emotional hesitation--its unwillingness to risk unguarded ardor or painful vulnerability. This risk-aversion is even more glaring in the treatment of Alex's wisecracking, retro-styled girlfriend. A dark-eyed Westchester princess, she greets his abandonment and betrayal with unflappably sardonic retorts (and, in the play's most cruelly incredible magic trick, manages to pay rent on a Brooklyn apartment with plastic).

The play's biggest flare-up, unsurprisingly, is between the actor and his agent over what she calls his "slight recurring case of homosexuality." This is the play's main selling point, I guess, but Beane adds little here to the dish or the disgrace of the celluloid closet. He does fire off some reliable laugh lines, as when Diane sums up the only favorable conditions for actors to come out: "Are you British? Are you knighted? If not, shut up." It's not so appealing, though, when Mitchell cries poor, saying he feels the American dream of self-invention slipping from his grasp. Certainly insecurity knows no color, but a rich white movie actor doesn't make the best spokesman for disenfranchisement.

Director Scott Ellis' production is sleek and sinuous, with Allen Moyer's pop-out grid set faintly suggesting a game show. That's about right for the glittery, no-harm-no-foul fun had by these contestants.

The Little Dog Laughed
By Douglas Carter Beane
Directed by Scott Ellis
Second Stage Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 1/9/2006 11:02:00 AM


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