The hilarity of Hollywood hypocrisy reigns anew in "The Little Dog Laughed: Douglas Carter Beane's trenchant social satire that has transferred from off-Broadway to Broadway without missing a laugh.
In fact, if anything, the production, now playing at the Cort Theatre, seems better, thanks to some smart recasting and a heightened sense of theatricality that director Scott Ellis has brought to the bright, fast-paced evening.
Still hovering over the proceedings is the divine Julie White as Diane, the driven uber-agent intent on making her client (Tom Everett Scott) a big movie star. Only one thing stands in her way. The guy is gay and has fallen for a hustler (Johnny Galecki), who seems to have more scruples than anyone else on stage. But then, to complicate matters, this rent boy also has a girlfriend (Ari Graynor).
But you can't keep a wheeler-dealer down, and Diane knows how to connive. It's great fun watching the svelte, sexy White, done up in stylish clothes (the costume designer is Jeff Mahshie) and super-slender high heels, barrel her way to success. It's one of those exuberant comic performances you will remember for years to come.
Beane's play is deeper on a second viewing, too. Despite the jokes, there are serious intentions behind his savagely funny look at what deception does to people, particularly in the complicated world of show biz. Compromise is the order of the day – in front and behind the camera.
As the closeted actor, the genial Scott, one of the new additions to the cast, captures this moral duplicity just fine.
So does Galecki, whose performance has grown since "The Little Dog Laughed" was first performed last January at Second Stage Theatre. As Alex, the actor - sporting a severe, helmet-like haircut - portrays what could be called the prostitute with a heart of gold. If not exactly innocent, he at least has qualms about what sacrifices the agent is demanding of him and her client.
Graynor, the other replacement, brings genuine heart to the other woman in this unconventional triangle. She, too, is tempted by success.
What makes the character of Diane so vivid is that she has no illusions about what she might have to do to succeed in the cutthroat world of movie-making.
"The thing about dreams is, is that dreams aren't always healthy, but nevertheless everyone has them," the agent says at one point during the evening. She is there to make them happen, primarily for herself, and hang the consequences. Her laser-beam focus is awesome and thoroughly entertaining.
New comedies are uncommon on Broadway. New comedies that are actually funny are so rare that there ought to be an endangered-species list.
Shout hallelujah for Douglas Carter Beane's satiric fable "The Little Dog Laughed," which opened last night at the Cort Theatre and delivers two hours of delicious good fun and a dazzling turn by Julie White.
Set in New York, and L.A., the story revolves around a sly Hollywood agent, Diane (White), whose closeted client Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott) falls for a male prostitute, Alex (Johnny Galecki), and decides to come out. Diane reminds him that audiences like their stars straight and crafts a plan, involving Alex's friend Ellen (Ari Graynor), to ensure that everyone gets a happy ending.
Beane's story is about Hollywood, where sexuality is still a taboo topic. But he raises issues about compromising and cashing in that echo far beyond Tinseltown.
White and Galecki reprise roles they created last winter at Second Stage Theatre under director Scott Ellis, who has guided them to even richer performances. White, like the play, is over the top - and it works. With eyes that careen crazily in their sockets, a loopy voice and perfect comic timing, she is a blast - a red-headed hurricane in high heels and with low morals. She looks smashing in Jeff Mahshie's fab outfits.
Galecki, who finds himself not wearing a stitch of clothes in one scene, has great comic chops and gives surprising toughness and tenderness to his role.
Two new actors fix the problems I had with the earlier production. Scott, of the TV drama "Saved," is perfectly cast as the rising film star. He has an irresistible, scruffy sexiness and easygoing charm. Scenes between the two men are as humorous as they are authentic. Graynor makes the most of the least-developed role, a cynical smarty-pants who, at 24, thinks she knows all.
Allen Moyer's set is sleek and clever. It features panels that slide open to reveal hidden compartments where scenes play out and nicely underscore the story's theme of secrecy.
Gaze at the ceiling to spy another set element: a crib mobile, with huge figures of the little dog and pals. Seems Beane's boy-meets-rent-boy tale is a grownup version of the old rhyme about playful pairings, oft recited while tucking in the tots. Don't be surprised after seeing "The Little Dog Laughed" that you giggle in your dreams.
It’s a gay comedy - in deed, it's positively cheerful.
Douglas Carter Beane's naughtily satirical look at life, homosexuality and Hollywood, "The Little Dog Laughed," arrived last night at the Cort Theatre, with a lead performance by the redoubtable Julie White.
As she did when the show was off-Broadway, White plays a Hollywood agent who makes cynicism one of the Seven Deadly Virtues. Now this nifty vehicle for her talents finds equal traction on Broadway.
It's as slight as a drag queen's feather boa, yet if a straight male audience doesn't feel threatened by some totally gratuitous male nudity, heterosexuals should find the show just as amusing as their gay counterparts will.
This Hollywood agent, Diane (White), has a client she's nurtured to the brink of major stardom. As she sees it, he has one tiny problem: "He suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality."
Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott) thinks his private life should be ... well, private. Besides, as he puts it, "I'm not gay, I just feel gay."
At the moment, he's shacked up in a hotel room with Alex (Johnny Galecki), whom he met through a dating service. Now this hook-up has developed into "a relationship," to the peril of all.
Not only is the actor's career at stake, but so is the soul of Alex, who's fallen in love with his meal ticket, and the future of Alex's party-girl girlfriend Ellen (Ari Graynor), whom he's carelessly impregnated.
Then again, Diane isn't a Ms. Fixit of negotiation for nothing - and it all ends well for all concerned, and even those just a tad unconcerned, like, perhaps Mitchell.
Half of the cast has been changed since its off-Broadway incarnation - to its advantage - but director Scott Ellis is now a little too ready to let everyone jump eagerly over the moon.
White, a mistress of the double-take, the seventh-take and every take in between, was always happy to rush over the top. Now she's giving a lively impersonation of someone crossing Niagara Falls on a highwire. She gets to the other side, but not without a few histrionic wobbles.
Much more restrained is Galecki's sweet boy-for-hire, who finds himself unaccountably smitten. It's by far the best-conceived role, and its unexpected complexity is here played for all it's worth.
The newcomers slip into the comedy as if it were made for them. Scott, as the charmingly ambiguous hunk of a movie starlet, never gives the impression he might morph into Hollywood legend, providing the fairy tale with the perfect comic edge. Graynor is as terrific in her timing as in her manner.
So, there it is: a simple, fun evening, full of gay wit and wisdom.
It’s as if a dodo had materialized in the heart of Manhattan — and not some stuffed relic from a natural history museum but a fat, frisky dodo, as alive as you or I. The comedy of manners, a theatrical form widely believed to be long extinct in the American theater, has actually resurfaced on Broadway with all its vital signs intact.
This surprisingly hearty specimen is a small but trenchant satire about truth and illusion Hollywood-style called “The Little Dog Laughed,” by Douglas Carter Beane, which opened last night at the Cort Theater after a smash run Off Broadway (at the Second Stage Theater) earlier this year.
The primary revitalizer here, along with Mr. Beane, is the marvelous Julie White, who is again at the show’s helm as the movie agent you hate to love, but can’t help clasping to a part of your anatomy she seems to be missing. (I mean, of course, the heart.) Her delivery of Mr. Beane’s dialogue ensures that theatergoers who thought that wit that both sings and stings would never echo again on Broadway without a British accent have cause to rejoice.
O.K., now let’s get this teeny bit of unpleasantness out of the way. Since Ms. White’s character, a Mephistopheles in Manolos named Diane, rules the play unconditionally, it seems appropriate to borrow her language to break this review’s bad news. “It is wondrous,” Diane says to a writer whose movie scenario she is about to dismantle, “and by that I mean, I only have a few notes.”
Fortunately, my list of notes isn’t nearly as extensive as Diane’s. But I do feel compelled to say — and it’s only because I love you, Sweethearts; you know that, don’t you? — that Mr. Beane’s play has not been given the top-drawer remounting it deserves.
The two new additions to its four-member cast, who include the television star Tom Everett Scott, are no match for their Off Broadway predecessors, though they may be when they relax into their roles. What’s more, the play’s director, Scott Ellis, and its set designer, Allen Moyer, have taken the path of least resistance in moving “Little Dog” to a bigger stage. What looks clever and confident in an intimate house can sometimes look downright lost in a large one.
Whew! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dwell on the considerable virtues of this story of a closeted film actor, the rent boy who loves him, and the agent who sees love as just another irritating speed bump on the road to serious power. While the titillating à clef elements of such a scenario may be what lure enquiring minds into the Cort, what is guaranteed to give them a good time is Mr. Beane’s wily way with words.
Mr. Beane has a linguistic talent that peaked with post-World War I playwrights like Philip Barry and Noël Coward: the gift for making spoiled, shallow people seem interesting, and not because of how they spend their money or whom they sleep with, but because of how they talk
Even when they’re feeling depressed and confused, Mr. Beane’s characters express themselves with a streamlined elegance that tongue-tied mortals only wish they could command in real life. Though it’s Diane who gets the most irresistible epigrams, as the Devil always does, Mr. Beane gives generous doses of eloquence to his other characters: Mitchell (Mr. Scott), the sexually confused movie star on the rise; Alex (the engaging Johnny Galecki, repeating his Off Broadway role), the sweet, smart hustler who adds to Mitchell’s confusion; and Ellen (Ari Graynor), a downtown party girl and Alex’s sometime lover.
As he proved in his best previous work, the Off Broadway hit “As Bees in Honey Drown” (1997), Mr. Beane doesn’t traffic merely in sitcom zingers, though he comes up with some fine examples of that quippy art. (Mitchell’s comeback to Alex, who has just refused the offer of a drink: “Why? Did life suddenly get beautiful?”)
What sets Mr. Beane apart from aspiring successors to Neil Simon is the comic poetry he finds in hypocrisy, deception and denial. Having toiled in the artificial vineyards of Hollywood as a screenwriter, Mr. Beane has understandably become an authority on these subjects.
In “Little Dog,” he orchestrates his characters’ secrets and lies — conscious and unwitting — with the variety and musical pacing of light opera. The play is replete with the spoken equivalents of arias, recitative and, best of all, duets, trios and quartets, when the performers speak in dizzy counterpoints of interior monologues.
The richest solos belong to Diane: the savagely lyrical reflections on her business; the speeches when she strokes, skewers and stuns those who would keep her from propelling Mitchell to mega-stardom; and the ecstatic problem-solving riff in the second act that brings down the house as if Ms. White had delivered a knockout performance of “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy.”
But even Ellen, the most tangential of the characters, has some lovely barbed monologues, including one in which she describes how she knew her childhood had ended when her mom turned her bedroom into a craft room.
Ms. Graynor, whose affection-hungry Valley Girl was the best thing in Donald Margulies’s “Brooklyn Boy” last year, is less at ease with that character’s East Coast equivalent; she is soft where she should be spiky. Mr. Scott has not come to terms with the narcissism that has to be Mitchell’s primary defining trait. But he admirably holds his own in the devastatingly funny scene in which Mitchell and Diane woo a prickly playwright.
Mr. Galecki (who was a regular on “Roseanne”) remains fully committed to the ambivalent Alex, turning the play’s most conventionally sentimental character into its most convincingly conflicted one. He matches Alex’s description of Mitchell as a basically nice guy who is “damaged goods enough to keep things interesting.”
But the lifeblood of “Little Dog” is, as it was, Ms. White. Though she initially seemed to be straining at the critics’ preview I attended, she soon reclaimed Diane’s mesmerizing rapid-fire rhythm, which suggests an Uzi with a velvet muffler.
While she is unmistakably a creature of Hollywood, New Yorkers will recognize what makes Diane run. That’s unadulterated ambition, the kind that makes people forgo sleep, ethics, regular meals and personal lives. Such energy scalds those who get too close to it. But as channeled by Ms. White, at a safe enough distance to savor, it is the perfect wattage for filling a Broadway house with incandescent light.
Move over, Ari Gold, Diane is back in town. Hollywood agents rarely get ahead by being gentle negotiators, but the fierce wheeler-dealer played by Julie White in "The Little Dog Laughed" has all the sensitivity of a tsunami. A supreme manipulator whose scorn for the industry she represents in no way compromises her adherence to its rules, White's Diane made Douglas Carter Beane's uneven patchwork of a comedy enjoyable regardless of its flaws at Off Broadway's Second Stage earlier this year. Buoyed by one central recasting improvement, the play offers both more and less of the same in its move to Broadway.
Like Beane's "As Bees in Honey Drown," "Little Dog" is assembled around the acid-dipped caricature of a female monster in a superficial culture obsessed with fame and success. The playwright gives his diva a series of arias -- monologues or near-monologues -- that play like comic routines stitched not always seamlessly into the fabric of a broader, four-character narrative.
That narrative deals with Diane's aggressive bid to bounce from agent to manager to producing partner by securing a hot film property and tailoring it for star client Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott). The process involves rescuing the project from arthouse oblivion by turning its central relationship from gay to straight. Burned by Hollywood in the past, the unseen playwright whose work is being refashioned offers resistance. But the more pressing problem is Mitchell's sudden urge to kick down the closet door, spurred by his blossoming relationship with gay-for-pay boy Alex (Johnny Galecki).
One of Beane's central themes is how the quest for happiness often is hijacked by external concerns, calling into question the notion that in America you can be whatever you want to be. "The only ones who can be whatever they want are white, upper-middle class, straight, conservative, Protestant men," offers Mitchell.
Despite clear evidence of an attraction both emotional and physical, neither Mitchell nor Alex wants to acknowledge being gay. "I'm not a sex-with-guys kind of person," stresses Mitchell. "I'm in it for the money," says Alex, helpfully suggesting Mitchell probably falls under the category of "straight but curious."
When the relationship takes hold, Mitchell has delusions of making it work via the usual subterfuge ("I wonder if he'd be up to pretending to be a personal assistant?"). But ultimately, only Alex has the courage to follow through.
A better physical fit for the role than his Off Broadway predecessor Neal Huff, Scott is terrific in the early scenes, in which his easygoing manner and stream of wisecracks only half cover his underlying nervousness and unfulfilled need. He's a big, likable lug -- albeit one far too verbally adroit in Beane's quick-witted dialogue. If he's less persuasive when the character is forced to make choices, it's due largely to the playwright's failure to ground the relationship between the two men in reality.
Galecki's character is more satisfyingly developed, and the actor balances Alex's cocky, street-smart demeanor with glimpses of an unguarded emotional rawness that make him almost an alien in this play.
The weakest link is Alex's sort-of-girlfriend Ellen. As clever and funny as the writing is, Beane's quip factory often functions at the expense of character development -- particularly so in this case. While Zoe Lister-Jones was abrasive in the role at Second Stage, Ari Graynor seems stiff and uncomfortable as the smart-ass party girl, sucking the air out of the play whenever she's onstage. Ellen is such an unappealing character that her intended vulnerability gets lost and it's hard to care much about her predicament, which becomes fodder for Diane's Machiavellian meddling.
Scott Ellis' production has a slick, stylish look thanks to Allen Moyer's pop-art set and the electric color palette of Donald Holder's lighting, mixing bold primary shades with hot pastels.
But the play's flimsiness -- its nagging shallowness, inconsistency of tone and over-reliance on direct address -- is exposed more harshly in the larger space and the burden placed more heavily on White's shoulders.
Her whip-smart performance is a comic whirlwind, bristling with cool calculation, acerbic observation and a gleeful, unapologetic awareness that Diane's needs are paramount and everyone else's are to be compromised at will. While there seems no inherent reason for Beane to make her a lesbian, as a vehicle for the playwright's amusing roasting of Hollywood, she's sharp as a tack. Perhaps the real achievement is that White makes her such an ingratiating villain. But the actress has become a little screechy in the role, the urge to crank it up a notch steering her toward cartoonishness.
Given the scarcity of viable new comedies on Broadway, audiences no doubt will be tickled by the satire's risque humor and hint of topicality. White's rape-and-pillage comic turn and the barrage of witty zingers here might arguably be enough to justify Beane's mainstage upgrade.