THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, BUT THE AUDIENCE WASN’T SO LUCKY
Douglas Carter Beane’s 2007 Tony-nominated play The Little Dog Laughed is a comedy. Apparently director Jon Cortez did not get that memo. Under his misguided, clueless and inept watch at the Zephyr Theatre, what should be a brisk romp turns into a laborious 2 1/2 hour soap opera that unfolds at a glacial pace with holes so large between lines that you could not only drive a truck though them, an entire caravan could pass with time to spare. My theatergoing companion uttered, “They could have cut a half-hour off of it if they made it a comedy.”
Beane’s intuitive, up-to-date script tackles provocative, adult issues with humor and authenticity, but it deserves much more due than it receives in this production. On numerous occasions I found myself thinking, “Wow, that could have been an hysterical line.” Call me old-fashioned, but I think the laughs should be coming from the actors on stage, not my mind’s eye.
Mitchell (Owen Martin) is an up-and-coming actor on the verge of making it as the next big heartthrob onto the A-List. There’s just one problem. He suffers from a “slight recurring case of homosexuality.” When he falls for rent-boy Alex (Trip Langley), he must question to what lengths he is willing to go to balance his career and his happiness. His agent and wannabe mogul Diane (Bernadette Birkett) would like him to keep his closet door nailed shut, and will do whatever it takes to protect her meal ticket; no deception is too great to achieve her goals. Alex views himself as straight and simply gay-for-pay, but he now has to deal with both his newly evolving love for Mitchell and his ongoing involvement with his gold-digging girlfriend Ellen (Laine Jennings). Ellen, who has just been dumped by her deep-pockets sugar-daddy quickly goes in to survival mode to keep herself afloat. Moral and ethical dilemmas abound, causing all to reexamine the essence of who they truly are.
The foursome forced to bring the director’s disastrous vision to life all give it the old college try, but mostly to no avail. Birkett (AKA Mrs. George Wendt) is totally miscast and appears to have absolutely zero understanding of her character. The role of Diane is an actress’ dream (Julie White won the Tony for her performance), but in Birkett’s hands, the juicy, dynamic part totally goes to waste. In addition, she often seems to be searching for her words, especially in her break-the-fourth-wall monologues (although I must admit it was entertaining to watch as she employed every trick in the actor’s handbook—vamping words, hemming and hawing—to get herself back on track as an attempt to make the audience think she meant to do it that way).
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Jennings’ Ellen is the only bright spot in this otherwise dreary endeavor. She actually plays a fleshed-out character, knows how to pick up her cues, and even manages to find some of the humor in the piece. The guys both fall into that great white bread abyss: Not great, not horrible—just there, bland and flavorless. Langley gives a performance that would be terrific if this was a movie. Alas, there is no camera zooming in for a close-up; thus, his understated recitations mostly fade into the forgettable. The extremely likeable Martin fares a bit better, but once again the director has shackled him with ridiculous choices and bizarre interpretations.
The high-class hotel room set by Carlo Maghirang is drab and cheap—brown, dark and downright depressing to look at for the 150 excruciating minutes. Josh Holt’s lighting does little to brighten the mood; often the stage seems to be half-lit. Probably not their fault, since both of their efforts seem to play perfectly into the director’s doom-and-gloom approach to the material.
The show is a transfer from what the press material proclaims was a successful run of an acclaimed production at The Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo. Who ever thought it was a good idea to move it to the Zephyr should be strapped into a seat and forced to watch each and every performance as penance for their sins.
photos by Richard Michael Johnson
The Little Dog Laughed
Blazeco Productions at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on September 16, 2012
visit here for tickets