I saw Douglas Carter Beane's comedy in New York with the wonderful Julie White as Diane, the hungry agent and Johnny Galecki giving a touching performance as the rent boy, Alex. The play is now in London in a different production and with a very different cast ranging from the sublime to the amateur.
The story of THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED is a relatively simple one and fairly close to the truth of Hollywood casting and image making. Diane's major client is Mitchell, an actor who is known for his ideal boy next door looks and charm. She is putting together a major deal for Mitchell to star in a film version of a current hit Broadway play. The play is a gay love story and Diane knows that Hollywood only casts straight actors -- like Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, Ewan MacGregor or Jim Carrey -- in gay roles. Unfortunately for Diane, Mitchell is gay, if relatively closeted, or has been relatively closeted until he meets rent boy Alex. Alex has always thought he was straight but "gay for pay" until he meets Mitchell. Diane has to try to keep Mitchell in the closet so she can become the Hollywood player she is hungry to be.
A simple situation made complex and stageworthy for two reasons. Firat, that Beane, through characters' direct address to the audience in riffs that are sometimes hilarious, but often touching, take his play beyond situation comedy. Second, that the characters are three dimensional. Mitchell may be falling in love, but he also wants the adoration of the masses. Alex may be a hustler and damaged goods, but he also has principles, a variation on the whore with the heart of gold.
Tamsin Greig, a terrific comedienne, is as good as Diane as Julie White was, and that's high praise. She captures the heartlessness of the Hollywood player and the insatiable drive for success. Unfortunately the two men aren't good enough. First, they look too much alike, which makes the men seem brothers instead of lovers. Rupert Friend is too young to play Mitchell and works too hard. One never forgets he is acting. Ditto Harry Lloyd as the hustler. He hasno professional stage credits and it shows. Johnny Galecki made him touching. Harry Lloyd just shouts every line the same way. The near capacity audience wasn't laughing much because the actors were working too hard. The men were playing bad sitcom instead of characters. The final scenes should be touching. They weren't. How much should director Jamie Lloyd be blamed? He certainly didn't seem to do more than block the piece.
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED by Douglas Carter Beane. Directed by Jamie Lloyd. Garrick Theatre. March 31, 2010.