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Theater Review (LA): The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

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Much laughter and applause is greeting the newest production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Los Angeles is being treated to the Tony-nominated The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane. The play started off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre and later moved to Broadway for a disappointingly short run. The star, Julie White, playing a ruthless, no-nonsense, ambitious agent, won a Tony Award for her efforts. Ms. White is reprising her role at the Kirk Douglas along with Johnny Galecki (of Roseanne fame).

The story concerns a brash Hollywood agent out to make her client (Brian Henderson) a star. There is only one problem: he suffers from “a recurring case of homosexuality,” something not tolerated in a Hollywood star. To make matters worse, Henderson’s character meets and falls for a local rent boy, nicely played by Galecki. Meanwhile Galecki’s hustler character has a girl on the side who he services for free (she’s exploiting some unseen rich man).

The play pulls no punches and hits the hypocrisy of Hollywood square on the head. There are frank discussions of what it is to be gay as seen by Ms. White’s character, as well as by the two male characters who protest that they are not really gay. That lie, as examined by author Beane, has real resonance in the post-Prop 8 world of California.

There are two realities at work here. First, there is the reality of the “biz,” which is barely tolerant of gay material unless, as in Brokeback Mountain, the actors involved are straight. To make a gay movie if you are gay isn’t daring or a stretch but is, to quote the agent, “showing off.” The other reality is that of the real feelings people may have for each other, but which they may sacrifice for the obvious rewards of money, fame, or an uncontroversial sexual identity.

The result of all this is a wicked satire. All the actors are terrific; I sat in the first row, and there wasn’t a false moment among them. The characters might have been fake, but the actors were not. Ms. White is sublime as the fast-talking agent; she would give Ari, played by Jeremy Piven in Entourage, a run for his money. Mr. Henderson is very good in a difficult role. His character doesn’t really know who he is, and is self-centered and needy, but somehow remains likeable.

Zoe-Lister Jones as the hustler’s girlfriend is caustic and manipulative. She sounds just like Kathy Griffin delivering one of her monologues. Mr. Galecki is convincing as a street hustler. It’s a big stretch from his work on Roseanne, and he gives a finely detailed performance, fending off or dealing with the words and actions of the other characters. Scott Ellis is the director and does a bang-up job keeping the laughs coming but leaving room for the serious moments.

I saw this play originally in New York but I feel it works better in Los Angeles. In New York the play was taken as a put-down of Los Angeles and you could feel the sense of superiority in the audience. In LA the feeling is different – it's one of recognition and a sense of being caught as the plays shows the nastiness of Hollywood.

The Little Dog Laughed plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre until Dec. 21. See it!!!

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