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The Little Dog Laughed

Julie White gives a commanding performance in Douglas Carter Beane's pseudo-sophisticated comedy about Hollywood. logo
Julie White and Tom Everett Scott
in The Little Dog Laughed
(© Carol Rosegg)
Comedies about cynical New York-Los Angeles bicoastals tend to fall into two categories: sophisticated and pseudo-sophisticated. Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed, the comic tale of a rising Hollywood star's fling with a Manhattan rent boy, falls with a thud in the latter category. It wants to be meaningful about corrupted contemporary ethics but it's just annoying, much like a little dog yipping at a bigger dog across the street. The Broadway production -- a belated transfer from Second Stage, where it bowed last winter -- is even louder and thuddier than before. With its inch-deep Machiavellian slant, it's even somewhat out of touch with these post-election times.

Beane's comedy has one strong selling point: his most garrulous character, Diane, a lesbian agent played by Julie White with all stops out and no one stopping her, including director Scott Ellis. Diane has her jaundiced eye fixed on the big prize, namely, getting her less-than-savvy movie star client Mitchell Green (Tom Everett Scott) the starring role in the film adaptation of a New York stage hit about -- uh-oh! -- homosexuals. When Mitchell hooks up with hooker-with-a-heart Alex (Johnny Galecki) and the two fumble towards as unlikely a relationship as you'll ever come across, Diane's plans threaten to come tumbling down.

Rolling her eyes and putting just about all of her speeches into theatrical italics, White seizes the opportunity to steamroll the audience, and she does so with more gale-wind force than she did in the smaller venue. Indeed, she is so persuasive that she manages to make amusing a character who is to today's Hollywood what Karl Rove was to Washington, D.C. right up until last week. Never mind that Diane is an immoral schemer whom many observers adore across the figurative footlights but, in real life, would run from so fast that innocent pedestrians would be flattened. Certainly, Diane is a smart dresser (Jeff Mahshie picked out her chic suits and understated frocks), and Beane has supplied her with some super-duper wisecracks. The one where she's asked to give a naïve New York playwright "her word" and replies "You're asking a whore for her cherry" elicits wall-shaking applause, and it's not the only doozy that's met with a clamorous response.

White's commanding performance distracts attention from a play that has no substance but is slicker than Allen Moyer's gliding, sliding set. What does Beane say about selling out that hasn't been said before? What is he saying about Hollywood downplaying homosexual love that hasn't been said before? Moreover, the four characters through whom he's trying to say these things are pretty but weightless.

For the Broadway transfer, the tall and hunky Scott has been imported to play the puddle-shallow Mitchell. He gets to cough out lines like "Oh. And. Oh. Wow, that's wow." He's good at it, but is that a compliment? If you wait for Mitchell to say anything he truly wants or stands for, you'll wait in vain. And if you expect the supposedly educated Alex, played by the likeably plucky Galecki -- who may have been cast as much for his much-displayed six-pack as his acting ability -- to explain why he earns his living as he does and seems more or less content doing so, frustration will again be your only reward.

The fourth character caught up in the low-grade maelstrom is Alex's sometime girlfriend Ellen (Ari Graynor), whose impregnation sets Beane's look-at-what-a-prize-skeptic-I-am denouement in motion. Because Beane sees men as unremittingly callow in their connections and women as isolated, Ellen registers mostly as a Diane in the making. Graynor, the other newcomer to the ensemble, does her turn well with appropriate Valley-Girl-comes-to-the-city affectations.

Finally, a curious Little Dog Laughed detail involves accessories: White wears two pairs of shoes with blood-red soles, and Galecki, whose hair looks like wheat blowing in a stiff wind, sports running shoes with blaring red bottoms. But though Beane's play boasts a surfeit of eye-catching soles, it can't be said to have much soul itself.

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