The Little Dog Laughed

  • Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman

    Sweethearts, darlings, angels mine, finally a play this season that's worth the drive to New York, even in a rainstorm, even with worn out wiper blades, even in mind-numbing traffic. None of it matters if you're coming to see "Little Dog Laughed," a satire about a Hollywood agent that will have you howling.

    This is the story of an actor who wants to come out of the closet, his agent who wants him to stay in, and a male prostitute and his lovely pregnant bimbo who provide the elegant solution that makes everyone happy. Well, actually, it only makes Diane, the agent, happy, but after all, isn't that what show biz is all about?

    Played with fangs and lethal bite by an exuberant Julie White, "Little Dog" belongs to Diane. She is mean, brash and ballsy, a woman with the depth of a specimen cup and the emotional capacity of a thimble, a mean-spirited agent who works -- and talks -- non-stop to orchestrate the behavior of anyone in her purview so they behave as obediently as she needs them to be.

    In this case, her problem is Mitch -- played by Tom Everett Scott, the star of TNT's "Saved" -- a handsome if somewhat clueless actor with a contract to make a movie that will certainly launch him into the big time, only he's decided that now's the right time to come out of the closet. He's come to New York with Diane to convince a writer to sell them the producing rights to his play, and Diane needs him to be macho and sexy. "Butch it up, Mary," she tells him, because with little Alex on his arm, he would just blow the deal.

    Fortunately, Diane knows exactly how to make everything come out all right. And so does Julie White. It's because of her deadly charm, powers of persuasion, and business smarts that this show has to made it to Broadway in the first place.

    Douglas Carter Beane's "Little Dog" was a sold-out hit at Second Stage Theatre last December when it opened to the kind of fabulous reviews that every actor prays for. Even before the end of its run, it was clear the play would move to Broadway, only there were no houses available. Roy Gabay, one of the play's lead producers, made several calls to the Shubert Organization -- owner of 17 Broadway theaters -- but his calls went unreturned.

    So White went to work, calling the octogenarian Gerald Schoenfeld, the organization's president, to have a sit-down. The attractive, 40-ish woman, with a figure to die for, met Schoenfeld in his office and turned on everything she had to convince the reluctant gatekeeper -- who probably just wanted some love and attention -- that "Little Dog" belonged on Broadway. By the end of their meeting, Schoenfeld asked her which house she wanted.

    Usually, when an off-Broadway show makes the decision to move to Broadway, the producing team wants to move as quickly as possibly to ride the momentum of the rave reviews and public demand for tickets. But because of the difficulty in obtaining a theater, 10 months elapsed before it could re-open, which turned out to be a good thing.

    The roles of Mitch and Ellen needed to be re-cast because White is so enormous, she eclipses everyone, leaving the other actors to find their way into their characters so that they're not squashed by Diane.

    The current cast of Scott, Johnny Galecki as Alex, and Ari Graynor as Ellen, are fine, but not great. However, it's not their show. It's Diane's. Long may she reign as the Killer Queen of Agents, all the way to the Tonys.

     

     

    What the press had to say.....

    BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES: �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." & "While she is unmistakably a creature of Hollywood, New Yorkers will recognize what makes Diane (Julie White) 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."

    JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "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."

    CLIVE BARNES of THE NEW YORK POST: "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." & "A simple, fun evening, full of gay wit and wisdom."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "It's not all that unusual for performers to stop a musical with the excitement of their singing and/or dancing. However, when droll acting literally stops a nonmusical comedy -- briefly putting matters on pause for explosive laughter, applause, even cheers from the audience -- well, that's something extraordinary. Julie White accomplishes just such an amazing feat several times in her tremendously funny portrayal of a semi-heartless show-biz agent"

    ROBERT FELDBERG of THE RECORD: "An odd mixture, half outrageously funny satire and half soap-opera sentimentality". & "(Beane's) gift is for bitingly funny social commentary rather than characterization or plotting. And in Julie White, he has the perfect mouthpiece."

    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "The territory - gender secrets from Hollywood to Washington to the church - could be as fresh or as familiar as yesterday's news. "Little Dog" takes sharp little nips at bones strewn around our cultural of hypocrisy, but never breaks any skin. Mostly, the targets are as quick and easy as Hollywood (superficial) and playwrights (naive and ethical). The jokes are fast but glib; the crisis, less daring than predictable. For all the humor aimed against stereotypes, the two women are caricatures of females supposedly beloved by gay men."

    PETER MARKS of THE WASHINGTON POST: "A Hollywood agent-ex-machina by the name of Diane (Julie White) kicks up the comic dust in "The Little Dog Laughed" the way stampeding bison grind up the prairie." & "Beane (playwright) knows his way around a sparkling turn of phrase. Sharp and elegant and crass all at once. In an "Entouragey" way, he gives this four-character comedy zing."

    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS says "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." & "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."

    DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "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." & "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."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Daily News
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