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I WOULD LIKE TO THANK MY AGENT
"The Little Dog Laughed" by Douglas Carter Beane; directed by Scott Ellis.
At Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43 St., NYC.
Jan. 9- Feb. 26, 2006. 212-246-4422
If Diane had lived during the Renaissance, she would have brandished a mean sword; scowled mightily with her hand placed threateningly on her dagger; smiled widely and bowed low; or gazed beatifically to heaven and crossed herself. In short, she would have done anything to cut her client the best deal in town. But Diane the Super-Agent (Julie White) lives in the here-and-now. She is the most impressive manipulator in this current theatre season and the perfect accessory for an actor teetering on the cusp of oblivion.
Diane lives in "The Little Dog Laughed," by Douglas Carter Beane, which is as sharp-fanged and belly-laugh funny as his "As Bees in Honey Drown." This time his target is Hollywood, and his protagonist is a pretty-boy actor (Neal Huff) who’s so hidden in the closet he wonders if he really is gay – until love in the form of a classy rental (Johnny Galecki) enters his life. But the rental has feelings and a girlfriend. The plot goes: boy wants boy. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll call you. Boy wants girl. Sometimes. Maybe. As for the girl (Zoe Lister-Jones), she gets what fits into Diane’s intelligent design.
All this confusion of the heart on the first floor of the stage is matched and checkmated by a total clarity of ambition on the upper level of the stage, where the fast-punning agent, usually on the phone and seated in a picture-box with bold lighting, is making power appointments – pulling the strings of fate. Occasionally she bursts into the actor’s hotel (bed)room and not only doubles the tempo of the dialogue but raises the temperature.
The characters are bright and clever, and all are fumbling toward happiness – in their own inimitable way. The poignant situations are punctuated with non-stop comedy – a most satisfying recipe. There are screenwriter jokes, gay gags, , sex quips, political wisecracks, boy scout humor – "the merit badge that dare not speak its name" and memories of the canvas tent. The bizarre comparisons that you can’t get out of your head are worth the price of admission – Buddhist sand paintings and Cobb salads. Sharp observations are at the heart of each epigrams. "Talking to you," one character says, "is like sewing a button on cottage cheese." You can feel the golden fingertips of Oscar Wilde all over Beane’s work.
In one scene, the agent and actor meet with The Playwright to convince him to sell his hit play about a gay romance to the movies. The playwright is so important that he is not only nameless and faceless but titled He meaning Him. Facing us, actor and agent pitch and promise, and the actor outs himself to secure the rights to the play. Maybe the moral of the play – if it has one – is that we may have to accept the wrong deal in order to ensure the larger goal.
Julie White, whose turns in Theresa Rebeck’s "Spike Heels" and "Bad Dates" were benchmarks, is a little over the top but so is Diane. Huff handles his role as the introverted actor well and is memorable in the outing scene, in which the relief and joy of the character feel real. A touching moment! Costume designer Jeff Mahshie is to thank for Diane’s awesome white suits and her long chain of oversized gold beads (which convey a sense of prehistoric royalty). The set design by Allen Moyer is distinctive, not only for its split screen effect but for the African-inspired hotel room with a carved footstool that could have come from Nigeria. Don Holder’s lighting through Venetian blinds (which changes from night to morning) brings a remarkable sense of verisimilitude to the scenes, and his intense monochromatic colors for the upstairs agent’s picture box are like a double coffee latte.
Diane, the "talky lady," deserves the last word. This is her formula for a good script. Put people in a tree. Throw stones at them. Get them down from the tree. Your tree, she tells the actor, is happiness. And he gets it – for a price. [Glenda Frank]
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