Wednesday, November 01, 2006

To See Such a Sight

"The Little Dog Laughed" at the Cort Theatre, October 28, 2006

Second Stages has had pretty decent luck with transferring shows to Broadway, most recently "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" which is still running at the Circle in the Square Theatre after picking up a couple of Tony Awards.

Now we have the transfer of "The Little Dog Laughed," a dull poke in the eye of Hollywood by Douglas Carter Beane. The premise is that Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott) an actor just on the verge of Hollywood mega-stardom is debating coming out of the closet. His agent Diane (Julie White), a lesbian herself, is totally and adamantly against it, seeing it as total career suicide. A new play has just opened off-Broadway that is catching lots and lots of buzz and interest from Hollywood as a new movie vehicle. She has come to NY to see it and has brought Mitchell along to see it as well, if it meets up to her expectations. It does and the chase is on. (Spoiler Alert!)

Mitchell, however, has hired a young hustler Alex (Johnny Galecki) to spend a little time while Diane is at the theatre. He stumbles through the whole "businessman-traveling, not-really-gay-just-curious" schtick. Alex responds in kind with the "only-in-it-for-the-money, have-a-girlfriend" reply that makes both closted men feel better about themselves. Alex almost makes a clean escape. Mitchell passes out drunk before the "deed" and just as Alex has emptied Mitchell's wallet, Mitchell stirs in his sleep and stirs something in Alex. They wake the next morning, hung over and uncomfortable, respectively. As they stumble through good-byes, a real passion ignites. Diane enters just as they've gotten naked and brings the proceedings to a halt. She dismisses Alex and chews out Mitchell over the indiscretion.

Alex meets up with his girlfriend Ellen (Ari Graynor), who has recently been dumped by her own sugar daddy, but she's retained custody of his AMEX gold card. They tumble into bed after making a pact that they won't let the other end up alone.

In an hilarious lunch scene with the playwright (unseen) Diane and Mitchell snare the movie rights. Mitchell and Alex continue to see each other after Diane returns to Hollywood to sell the picture. Ellen suspects that Alex and Mitchell have paired up and all seems relatively wrapped up until she discovers that she's pregnant with Alex's baby. Diane arrives back to NYC with a deal that will make everyone happy - it's a brilliant scene of manipulation.

Scott Ellis has directed this comedy with an economy of motion and scale. There haven't been significant changes in the production from the off-Broadway run, but it has tightened up in a couple of scenes.

Sets by Allen Moyer are also basically unchanged from the original production. Jeff Mahshie's costumes have also streamlined somewhat. Most of the cast spend their time wearing black and white, but Diane gets an early flash of color (red soles on some great high heels) and resolves the show in a striking red dress.

As Ellen, Ms. Graynor joins the cast as the only member who's appeared on Broadway. Her Ellen is a tiring party girl who's more ready to settle down that anyone might have realized, especially her. In a pretty good blond wig, she makes a nice contrast to the two dark-headed actors and Ms. White's red mane.

TomEverett Scott is also a new member to this production, making his Broadway debut. His Mitchell is a contradiction as he struggles with wanting happiness as well as a career that has no interest in supporting his sexual orientation. I really wanted to like him in this role, but had trouble doing so. He stumbled on a line or two, which is not a major sin, but he also seems to have lost that youthful optimism he has demonstrated in his film and TV roles. Mitchell is a brash young man. Mr. Scott looked just a little too tired and jaded for me. Maybe if he lost the facial stubble, he might appear more youthful. I also wonder if perhaps the way his character is written adds to this. The first scene with Alex has him already drunk with a cigarette when Alex arrives.

As Alex, Mr. Galecki nails the awkward, unsure and hesitating profile of a wandering young man. His Alex knows what he knows, but absolutely has no idea what he doesn't know. He finds in Mitchell someone he thinks he can help, or help fix. It's a classic dynamic that can draw two people together, but rarely will it keep them so. This debut is one to be proud of.

It's Julie White that walks away with this show, however. From her first moment as she describes an awards banquet where Mitchell gets his first major industry recognition, she grabs the audience by whatever appendage is available and doesn't let go until the curtain call. Her Diane is the composite of every agent/manager/producer you can imagine - cold, calculating, charming and ruthless, she plays the game because she's rewriting the rules and she goes along. There is not a line, moment or gesture that is wasted in this performance. She's been long overdue for a starring role on Broadway - let's hope there will be many more to follow this one.

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