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The Little Dog Laughed 

Thursday, Dec 4 2008
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As Gertrude Stein once put it (but not about this play), “It’s almost about something, and then it’s just not.” Douglas Carter Beane’s comedy brings with it the New York cast that put the play on the map and which secured Julie White a Tony for her role as a Hollywood actors’ agent who fires off scathing retorts with contrapuntal animation and a shit-eating grin. But is it really worth the trouble spending two-plus hours in the theater waiting for said actor (Brian Henderson) and the street hustler (Johnny Galecki) he regularly employs to figure out whether or not they’re really gay, and whether or not they’re really capable of love? If Mitchell (Henderson) comes out of the closet, there goes his career, ’cause a straight guy playing gay is “noble,” whereas a gay guy playing gay is just “boasting.” It’s a play that probes the obvious and discovers almost nothing amidst some sweet repartee, and a quartet of performances (Zoe Lister-Jones plays the hustler’s sardonic girlfriend) that are convincing enough to add the illusion of substance. One brilliant scene in which the actor and the agent interview an offstage playwright for the film rights to the scribe’s openly gay opus snares the Industry’s layers of deception with contemptuous delight. It’s the one scene to which the entire comedy is tethered — philosophically and dramaturgically. As funny as it is, it too pokes at truths so evident, there’s no actual discovery. (Gosh, they lie in Hollywood!) When the play isn’t ripping at such generic truths, it goes after things that just aren’t true. The agent makes a quip about how L.A. has solved the problems of cell phones in the theater by not doing theater. “Choices were made.” Big laugh. At what? A myth about L.A. that’s so false they don’t even believe it in New York anymore. The difference between Beane and Oscar Wilde is that Wilde poked at hypocrisies that were assumed and barely discussed, thereby ripping open some fabric of the culture. Beane tears at threads that are clearly frayed, which is just like a kid firing spit wads from the back of the class just to prove he can. Scott Ellis’ direction is meticulously timed, though the technique used widely across regional theaters of having movable set pieces slips into place with the sound effect of a whoosh, or a reverberating slam – as though lifted from an ancient episode of The Matrix — is fundamentally anti-theatrical and wearisome to those who believe that the possibilities of live theater can rise higher than such cheesy sound effects — and the gaps they’re trying to fill. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (213) 628-2772.
Sun., Nov. 23, 6:30 p.m.; Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 2, 8 p.m. Starts: Nov. 23. Continues through Dec. 21, 2008

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Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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