The Little Dog Laughed
by Douglas Carter Beane
directed by Jon Cortez
Secret Rose Theatre
through July 8
Douglas Carter Beane
's Tony nominated Best Play of 2007 The Little Dog Laughed,
with its satirical take on happiness Hollywood Style, especially in its depiction of gay relationships, is timely, topical and most welcome in LA, where ironically there's still enough animosity and money stacked up against same sex marriage. Now at the Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo, Blazeco Productions offers a highly earnest endeavor.
This play begins with a ballbusting, bitchy agent Diane acting as narrator (Bernadette Birkett), so from the very onset we are aware of a glaringly insipid yet sugar-coated phoniness. Success is her bottom line, and it totally excludes love. So love becomes this tale's obstacle. And it just so happens that an unexpected true bond develops between a movie actor Mitchell (Owen Martin), Diane's client, and a hustler Alex (Trip Langley). Mitchell is rip-roaring inebriated when he first encounters Alex, and Alex is simply servicing - or not servicing, in this extreme case - another rich client. There is not even a hint of genuine attraction between them. Besides, Alex has a girlfriend Ellen (Laine Jennings), who, however, also happens to be dating a wealthy older sugar daddy... that is, 'til he dumps her. "We're 24 and life is dead", she quips. Sad, but funny nonetheless! Of course, to make a long story short, Mitchell and Alex keep seeing each other. Ellen becomes jealous when she sees a newspaper photo of them out and about town ... and Diane is utterly infuriated at her client's misguided attitude toward gay dating while trying to pursue a successful Hollywood career.
What makes the play enjoyable is its fairytale-like storytelling, narrated by a witch of sorts, who has fun playing the show biz game and seeing right through it all. She even announces the break for intermission and introduces the second act by illustrating that a second act is not a good second act unless it starts with a bang. What fun! Beane's writing is assuredly offbeat and its presentation quirky and unpredictable. What comes off awkward in this production is a straightforward totally realistic direction of the two men by Cortez. He needs to stylize a lot more to punctuate the fine-tuned comic moments and to make the points stronger. An example is the ending - I don't want to spoil it for those who have not seen the play - and you should! - but, freeze frame - not take for granted - how Alex and Mitchell look back at each other. This Hollywood, supposedly happy, family portrait in which the little dog laughs is indeed off kilter, and we need to see/feel how the two men will genuinely miss each other. On a positive note, the scene in Act I, where Diane and Mitchell face the playwright in an attempt to buy his play for the big screen, is so well-written and delectably executed, in all of its two-faced brilliance, by actors and director.
The actors are captivating. Birkett, even when she sounds like she is reading a phonebook, is delicious, enjoying the spitefulness of her role play
of the agent in charge
. Jennings is wonderfully blase and casual as Ellen, never feeling too sorry for herself; in short, she's a bigtime survivoR. Martin
is handsome, strong and convincing in his bewilderment, but still attempting to connect to Mitchell's newfound love for Alex. Langley is unusually winning in looks and demeanor, uninhibited, and a beautiful reactor. Many of his facial expressions of surprise and dismay are fresh and delightful. Nonetheless, he also needs to go a step further in convincing the audience that he has really found the love of his life. As is, it works, but not optimally. Based on the talent and appeal of these two likable actors, they will get there with a few more performances under their belt.
J Raul Guzman has designed a fine set of a New York hotel suite, which serves efficiently to represent many other New York locales as well. This is one of the best sets I have seen on the Secret Rose stage.
The Little Dog Laughed is for the most part surprising fun and is definitely worth a peak.
Warning to parents: leave the little ones at home, as full-frontal nudity makes this one