THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED
We saw Douglas Carter Beane’s play this week. It provides an interesting counterpoint to the other big theatrical experience we’ve had lately. GREY GARDENS was a huge success Off-Broadway, much of the fuss centering on the female lead performance. If I can’t say I quite understand what the big deal is over Christine Ebersole’s performance in GREY GARDENS, I can certainly understand why people are so excited over Julie White’s performance as Diane, the Machiavellian Mephistophelian Agent From Hell. And similarly to GREY GARDENS, there’s not much else to make too much fuss over.
The play concerns Mitchell, a rising leading man with what Diane describes as a recurring case of homosexuality. In NYC to collect a rather improbable-seeming NY Film Critics Award for Best Actor, Mitchell hooks up with Alex, a young hustler. Alex and Mitchell hit it off, much to Diane’s dismay. Mitchell is clearly her star client, and if his gayness gets around he’ll be stuck in boutique projects for life.
The play is well-written enough. Beane can certainly get off good lines, and keeps the action rather lively. Unfortunately, none of the actors is operating at the same kind of near-operatic level of sheer outrageousness as White. She’s a grand Dickensian Giant, tearing into that role like a shark with a swimmer, great fun to watch even as you thank God in heaven that she’s safely on a stage rather than anywhere near your real life. But no one else quite comes alive on stage as completely as she does. The stage shouldn’t feel quite so empty when White isn’t around.
And later, on the way home, you'll probably find yourself wondering certain things. Like why the agent of a rising young actor who has just won the NY Film Critics Award never shows any concern about ensuring him an Oscar nomination. Or more importantly how we're supposed to feel about the elaborately happy ending arranged so beautifully by Diane: how happy is it really supposed to be? I found myself feeling rather queasy about the whole thing, and that may be the point. Or is it? I can't quite escape the feeling that a stronger set of actors being directed to get their characters across might have clarified a good deal.