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The Little Dog Laughed Play Reviews

Variety

The Little Dog Laughed
(TheaterWorks, Hartford, Conn.; 200 seats; $58 top)
By FRANK RIZZO

'The Little Dog Laughed'
TheaterWorks' presentation of the Douglas Carter Beane play 'The Little Dog Laughed.'

A TheaterWorks presentation of a play in two acts by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Rob Ruggiero.
 
Mitchell - Chad Allen
Diane - Candy Buckley
Alex - Jeremy Jordan
Ellen - Amanda Perez

Douglas Carter Beane's satiric look at Hollywood duplicity and deception, "The Little Dog Laughed," is hitting the provinces, and while auds might not get every insider reference or bitchy zinger, there's still plenty to connect with in this story of four self-absorbed characters and their desperate pursuit of some kind of happiness.

The Hartford production gets a reality check -- and some bonus subtext -- with the casting of out (and once-outed) thesp Chad Allen (TV's "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") as Mitchell, the up-and-coming movie actor on the brink of stardom who falls for gay-for-pay New York rent boy Alex (Jeremy Jordan).

Allen's performance grounds the often facile play in deeply felt human terms, showing the pain, confusion and narcissism of an actor coming to grips with the price of fame and sexuality. Playing Mitchell more as young turk than macho stud, Allen brings a boyish vulnerability, ego and panic to the part, rooting the role someplace real. Mitchell is practically atremble at the prospect of allowing this possibility of personal fulfillment to enter his life, and he's terrified of the consequences of his tentative actions.

Though the hyper-rhythms of Julie White (who won a Tony as barracuda talent agent Diane) are instilled in the character, the role is still ripe for the fearless.

Candy Buckley seizes each moment with complete comic command. She does fine in the monologues but really comes into her own in scenes when Diane has other actors to bounce off. Whether she's explaining why there is no country for gay stars, giving her word "as an entertainment industry professional," or whipping up an 11th-hour match made in "Access Hollywood" heaven, Buckley, is an unstoppable force as the uber-agent of anti-change.

Mitchell also shows he's a Hollywood pro at heart when it comes time to doubleteam with Diane to woo and win the trust of a gay playwright who has a hot property they want. The scene remains the dazzling centerpiece of the play, deliciously performed by Buckley and Allen.

Amanda Perez makes an impressive bow in the more schematically written role of Alex's shallow, shopaholic girlfriend, Ellen. Perez brings a wide-eyed, almost sweet self-centeredness as the party girl from Westchester. "I wouldn't be able to identify one of my emotions in a police line-up," she says, but Perez deftly belies her too-cool "whatever" attitude.

Fresh-faced Jordan gives credibility to Mitchell's dream by making his character sharp, confident and appealing. If he doesn't suggest enough of Alex wounds to make his struggle with his sexuality -- as well as his final decision -- more of a bittersweet triumph, he at least makes it understandable.

Helmer Rob Ruggiero tempers the pace and quips by bringing heart to a play that skirts superficiality. He makes the show not just a glib exercise in Hollywood hypocrisy and Gotham ennui but almost a human comedy, too.

Sets, Adrian W. Jones; costumes, David R. Zyla; lighting, Thomas Dunn; sound, Zachary Williamson; production stage manager, Sharon Lynn Miner. Opened Feb. 1, 2008. Reviewed Feb. 3. Runs through March 9. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.


Hartford Courant

Lots Of Laughs, A Few Tears| Courant Theater Critic

February 5, 2008 A homosexual who decides to come out of the closet should no longer pay a penalty in our society, but as Douglas Carter Beane reminds us in his sharply written, insightful and often savagely funny play "The Little Dog Laughed," the perils are, in some cases, quite real.

A politician's recent escapade in a public restroom, a New Jersey governor's painful outing and persistent rumors about which seemingly straight A-list Hollywood actor might be gay are the off-stage cultural context for Beane's play, which was first performed in 2006 and opened Friday night at TheaterWorks in Hartford.

At the center of Beane's comedy is Chad Allen's Mitchell, a rising Hollywood actor whose "boy next door" screen persona is at odds with his sexual orientation, at least when he can be honest about what it is. Mitchell actively denies his homosexuality, even if, wh

en drunk and alone in a Manhattan hotel room, he makes calls to a service for male prostitutes. The young man who arrives, Alex (Jeremy Jordan), has conflicts of his own, a denial evident in the schism between his career choice and the existence of a girlfriend, Ellen (Amanda Perez).

Mitchell is not the "Little Dog" character who voices what is at stake in his movie career and his personal life. That job belongs to Beane's most hilarious invention, Mitchell's longtime agent, Diane (Candy Buckley). A closet lesbian herself, Diane knows the game, knows the rules required to climb to the top of the marquee, and is ruthless in insisting that Mitchell play inside the lines, even if it means concocting a personal life that is a lie. Diane is a savage creation — equal parts pragmatic and obscene whether describing the pain of watching showbiz professionals order power-lunch salads, walking in on Mitchell during one of his "little adventures," or manipulating the ends of a story or a play so "the little dog" might laugh and the dish won't run away with the spoon.

But the choice here is Mitchell's, and if Diane dominates Rob Ruggiero's production for TheaterWorks, the play's emotional core lies with the young actor who must choose between true love and fame and fortune.

Ruggiero's company had a nervous start on Friday. Buckley couldn't stop playing with her hair in an opening monologue. Perez was rushing her lines. Allen and Jordan seemed closed to the audience, internally involved in ways that made it difficult to sympathize with their situations.

But the jitters passed, especially in the case of Buckley, who found her spiked-heel footing as the production went on and chewed up the scenery with obvious relish. Elongating vowels for emphasis, working the cellphone to flatter and then bully an up-and-coming playwright, and controlling, like a puppeteer, the lives of the play's young people, her Diane was the devil in David Zyla's designer clothes. But as with any performance that is so broad, it risks getting too big, and a bit of modulation might have been in order to avoid making this "Little Dog" the "Diane Show."

Perez, a recent graduate of theater school, also shed opening night nervousness speedily and turned in an amusingly wide-eyed performance as Alex's shopaholic grifter and sometime girlfriend.

The male leads were more problematic. Allen, familiar to TV audiences from "St. Elsewhere" and "Our House," continued to seem internally distracted through much of the show — as if the problem he was dealing with was something other than the one being dramatized on stage. Jordan did a better job connecting with the audience, but the chemistry between the pair suffered. Ruggiero's blocking could not be faulted. Scenes involving the pair's intimate encounters — including one or two with full nudity — were well staged, but if the script and the direction called for a great love to blossom before our eyes, the characters' feelings for one another were never entirely convincing.

Beane, whose other credits include the book for the musical "Xanadu," the play "As Bees in Honey Drown," and the film "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," is a funny and incisive writer. Here, his sympathy for the world's Mitchells is palpable while his view of Hollywood and its operators is as scathing as it is amused. An agent-actor alliance is, as Diane sees it, "Like a relationship — only it's enjoyable." A gay man's reference to the Boy Scouts prompts mention of, "The merit badge that dare not speak its name." The only gay actors who get away with being out are British. "Are you British?" Diane demands of Mitchell. "Are you knighted? If not, shut up."

The playwright has lyrical moments, as well. A young gay man can voice aloud his reluctance to be homosexual. "Am I gay? I don't want to be gay. Everybody has something on you if you're gay." A young woman going home to Westchester and her craft-making mother can find herself, for no particular reason, making a bracelet. A young man draping his coat over his girlfriend's shoulders on a cold subway ride can be the kindest thing she'll ever experience — and she may know it at the time.

Coming out stories are not new in the field of popular entertainment, but the rigor and humor of Beane's exploration of the topic are what distinguish his work. Ruggiero's production drew a standing ovation on opening night, and a lot of laughs.

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED continues through March 9 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Information: 860-527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org.


JAVA

Cast Members Bare It And Grin
February 5, 2008

What was on and what was off was the theme for the weekend around Hartford starting with press night and the cast party for TheaterWorks' production of "The Little Dog Laughed."

Led by actor Chad Allen, best known for his portrayal as Jane Seymour's son in the popular TV series "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman," the Tony award-nominated Broadway show included a couple of nude scenes that the actors knew had some audience members wishing they had seats farther back from the intimate stage. "Yeah, I could feel the scenes made some members of the audience uncomfortable," admitted Allen, who posed for pictures (with his clothes on) at a cast party at Bin 228 after the show. But then there were others who enjoyed the view, Allen said grinning. "I had one audience member tell me that I had one nice ass."

By the way, in terms of "on," as in on YouTube, TheaterWorks, which is also celebrating a very successful fundraising efforts that had executive director Steve Campo and play director Rob Ruggiero smiling, has added a little bit more to life, smile-wise, thanks to some clever marketing efforts for the show.

Think Idaho senator Larry "Bathroom" Craig. The theater has posted its own variation of the infamous bathroom story, featuring Hartford mayor Mike Peters, wide stance and all. Go to youtube.com, and type in TheaterWorks. It's the mayor as you have never seen him before.

Now back to the cast party.

Among those attending was writer/director Matthew Lombardo, who has a new project that is nearly ready to go. Lombardo, who wrote "Tea at Five," a one-woman show about actress Katharine Hepburn, is taking on another famous female — this time bonne vivante and talk-show host Tallulah Bankhead.

"It's called "Looped," said Lombardo about the play, scheduled to debut in the spring. Lombardo was coy when it came to telling exactly who is playing the leading lady, although it has been rumored it will be Tony Award nominee Tovah Feldshuh. "There is an H in her name," was all he would reveal, other than to say it will be coming to Hartford.


CONNECTICUT
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Little Dog Laughed

The Little Dog Laughed
Candy Buckley and Chad Allen
 

Quirky and edgy, The Little Dog Laughed gains resonance through its second act. Running at Hartford's TheaterWorks through March 9th, this biting contemporary satire begins with starts and jumps, and then escalates through playwright Douglas Carter Beane's sideways look at the possibilities of stardom.

Mitchell (Chad Allen), an actor,  is making his way out of the closet as his film celebrity might very well take off.  Brazen agent Diane (Candy Buckley) has an opinion about everything, especially Chad's desire to come out. From the moment she takes to the stage, Diane is irretrievably over the top.  Brassy, obnoxious, loud and hard-edged, she is single-minded in her zeal to propel Mitchell (and herself) big time. Anyone out there feel sympathy for Diane? No. Well, that is the precise intent, and director Rob Ruggiero urges Buckley's Diane front and center. This skillful yet annoying in-your-face performance is undeniably effective.

Alex (Jeremy Jordan) is a young guy who quickly finds his way to Mitchell's bedroom. Alex pronounces that he doesn't want to be gay – but he is. Too bad for Alex's girlfriend Ellen (Amanda Perez), who reads Alex's face in a New York minute and concludes she's the odd the one out. Toward the very end of the evening, Alex explains to Diane, "This is like a party game for mean people." Pretty sweet. Diane, narrating with gumption and bravado galore, serves as the play's fulcrum.

Beane, through his dialogue, effectively delineates Ellen's character. Perez, making her professional stage debut, is a newcomer to watch. Her impersonation of Diane's mother, the Westchester "Screecher" is, for example, a hoot. A graceful actress, Perez finds herself in a difficult, awkward situation. Beane assists lines that provide glimpses of his characters' impulses if not motives.

Chad Allen's impressive credits includes television series work on "St. Elsewhere," "Our House," "My Two Dads," and "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman." The Little Dog Laughed finds him falling fast for Alex, who hustles around. Meanwhile Diane insists that the relationship between Chad and Alex be kept secret.

In summary, then, Chad wants to come out but his agent demands that he stay covert with his sexual preference. Chad is on the verge of making a name for himself in the movies, but Diane doesn't want him to pass on the moment – which would be disastrous for her, too.  Alex is a pleasure-seeking individual who is, at best, indirect with his girlfriend. She informs her lover that he's impregnated her. Only Diane could possibly save the day!

The sites for the action are New York City and Hollywood. Designer Adrian W. Jones furnishes a sliding bed, complete with silver linens. Many of Zachary Williamson's musical "sounds" are harsh and borderline irritating. Again, this, no doubt, is by intent.

TheaterWorks' production is tight, fast-paced, and sometimes clever and amusing. Ruggiero does a fine job of creating a balance among the characters. Diane, whenever she opens her mouth, dominates a scene. That she does not obliterate many vignettes featuring the other performers speaks to the play's strength. I find her absolutely distasteful and wish she would vanish. That, however, would eliminate the essence of the play.  The Little Dog Laughed is an Off-Broadway piece and TheaterWorks' specialty is Off-Broadway theater. The play fits the theater's mission.

The Little Dog Laughed continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through March 9th. For ticket and schedule information, call (860) 527-7838.


Photo: Lanny Nagler


NEW YORK TIMES

Theater Review
Fresh From Broadway, Souls (and Sex) for Sale

Published: February 10, 2008

There are four hustlers onstage at TheaterWorks in Hartford, but only one of them is in the business of peddling sex. The other three characters in Douglas Carter Beane’s satirical comedy about Hollywood, “The Little Dog Laughed,” cheerfully sell their souls instead.


Lanny Nagler

RELATIONSHIPS Candy Buckley plays the agent of Chad Allen’s character.

What they want in exchange, of course, is success, and it means something different to each of them. For Mitchell, a closeted actor breaking out from the pack of young Hollywood studs, it’s stardom. For Diane, his take-no-prisoners agent, it’s power. For Ellen, the New York gadabout who becomes involved with them through her friendship with Alex, the male prostitute, it’s celebrity. And Alex? His motives seem almost laughably naïve alongside the others: he lowers his trousers — and yes, the audience will look on as he does so — strictly for the cash.

In the vast literature of fear and loathing in the movie industry — and is it any wonder that so much of it originates in the theater? — rapacious agents, craven performers and shallow party people are not exactly novelties. But Mr. Beane’s play, about the lengths to which Diane will go to keep Mitchell’s sexual orientation a secret, did not ride triumphantly to Broadway last season because it had something new to say about the hypocrisy of Hollywood. An off-Broadway hit in 2006, “The Little Dog Laughed” created a stir on the strength of Julie White’s definitive, unforgettable, Tony-winning performance as Diane.

Mr. Beane tailored the role for Ms. White, who managed to mask Diane’s predatory bite, and the play’s problems, with a clamorous, irresistible charm. Somehow, the TheaterWorks associate artistic director, Rob Ruggiero, and his Diane, the usually reliable Candy Buckley, must also make something delicious of this piranha. It’s a tall order. Although she looks sexy in David R. Zyla’s stylish outfits and crisply conveys Diane’s brio, Ms. Buckley never musters the appeal that will make the scheming agent a guilty pleasure for the audience. Her Diane is all flashing, snapping incisors.

It’s possible that this is a directorial choice. Although Diane announces at the beginning of the play that she is a lesbian, “The Little Dog Laughed” was criticized in New York for the homophobic slurs Mr. Beane has her fling repeatedly at Mitchell (and, less overtly, at the gay writer whose gay play she is trying to acquire for him). Mr. Ruggiero, who is, like Mr. Beane, openly gay, may not want us to see Diane as anything but a monster: If we’re not seduced by her, it becomes harder to gloss over the ugliness of her corrosive, withering contempt for everything and everyone around her.

But if we’re not seduced by her, how is it that Mitchell has put up with her for seven years? How has she been able to get his career to the point where he has so much to lose by hooking up publicly with Alex? And perhaps most important, how will this comedy get its laughs? Alex and Mitchell are too busy having sex and falling in love to be funny, and Ellen’s caustic wit serves primarily to underline how pathetically empty she is. Mr. Beane’s play needs us to fall a little bit in love with Diane — like it or not, everyone else on the stage is basically a stooge for her machinations.

In a casting coup that should be a marketer’s dream, the closeted actor Mitchell is played by the formerly closeted actor Chad Allen — he came out after a tabloid published photographs of him smooching with a boyfriend, and he has since become an outspoken advocate on issues affecting the gay community.

Mr. Allen’s chiseled features and easy charisma come across clearly on the small screen — his seasons as the son in “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” garnered him an avid following of teenage girls, and he’s won fans more recently as the gay detective Donald Strachey on Here! Television. But live theater makes different demands on an actor, and even in the intimate confines of TheaterWorks, Mr. Allen seems a bit too small and too wan to be persuasive as a rising Hollywood hunk.

Fortunately, the two attractive newcomers in the cast, Jeremy Jordan and Amanda Perez, give both heft and sparkle to Alex and Ellen. It’s not hard to buy them as pretty, crass young things accustomed to bouncing through life on their looks. And when life throws Mitchell and Diane their way, one of them will bounce all the way to the top, and the other will finally stop hustling.

“The Little Dog Laughed” is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford, through March 9. Information at (860) 527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org.

 

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