Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PLAY: "The Little Dog Laughed"

Douglas Carter Beane's The Little Dog Laughed is far from a children's nursery rhyme. Its one liners are wicked and the subject material has to do with self-deceit and self-loathing, the fleeting pursuit of happiness, and homosexuality in Hollywood. The show is driven by Julie White's masterful performance as a jaded but brutally savvy agent who is working to fend off her client's ambiguous sexuality long enough for him to become The Next Big Thing. The supporting cast lives up to the jaunty pace that Scott Ellis keeps them at, but they're simply not as delightfully vicious as Ms. White.

For a show that's so harshly satirical of the industry, it uses that sickening "three-act" formula to build the show to a feverish pitch, a hail of introspective monologues that works despite its own conventions. The finale is surprisingly depressing (or upbeat for the soulless) after so many dismissively punchy one-liners, and the night is a jolt of fun theater. For all that, it is still pretty shallow, and the show doesn't develop so much as indulge itself. But when indulging produces lines like "You're asking for my word? You're asking a whore for her cherry!" I tend to look the other way (on account of laughing too much).

I am surprised this, of all plays, managed a transfer to Broadway, and I'm not surprised to see it ending its run. The set is a lackluster demonstration of modern furniture (the set is recessed behind the wall and hidden windows open up to show alcoved side scenes) and the show is theatrically flat. But it's energetic, and it's sharp, and it was good while it lasted.

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