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Chicago by John Olson

The Little Dog Laughed
About Face Theatre

[see Editor's Note below]

The Little Dog Laughed
Lea Coco and Levi Holloway
Speculation about the private lives of celebrities may be a guilty pleasure, but Douglas Carter Beane's play concerning a young closeted gay movie star is one that can be enjoyed without guilt. It works on the level of giving us a satiric inside look into the off-screen intrigues of the entertainment industry, but Beane slyly provides more to think about, if we choose to.

His story concern Mitchell Green, a young film actor struggling with his sexual identity. While on a trip to New York to accept an award, he falls for Alex, one of the young hustlers he hires. As the relationship grows more serious, he's strongly discouraged by his agent, the acid-tongued Diane, from going public with it. Like two other gay-themed plays that recently opened in Chicago, Bare at Bailiwick and Good Boys and True at Steppenwolf, Little Dog focuses on a golden boy struggling with the decision of whether or not to pass as straight in a heterocentric world that rewards straights far more generously than gays. Like the authors of those other plays, there's no question that Beane sides with the guy who's more open with his orientation that would be Alex. Beane makes a good case for his position. Mitchell explains to Alex how the unlimited promise of life in America is really only available to those who meet certain criteria being white, wealthy, good looking and straight. "I had everything on the checklist," he explains, until he started to realize he might be gay. Besides, Mitchell really does have lots to lose if he were to come out publicly millions and millions in potential film career income so we have to empathize a little more with him.

Beane goes beyond this theme, though, giving us, through Mitchell, Alex and Alex's female friend (and sometime girlfriend) Ellen, examples of how people avoid risk in their relationships. His characters often say something contrary to what they really want. "I should be going," Alex keeps telling Mitchell when it's clear to us he knows he should really be staying. Beane even has the characters speak their inner thoughts directly to the audience before saying something different to each other. The masks people wear are shown right up front when Alex first arrives at Mitchell's suite. Alex introduces himself as "Bryan," the fantasy nephew Mitchell has ordered from an escort service called "Manhattan Schoolboys," while Mitchell hides his true identity as a rising movie star.

Beane's characters never descend into stereotype and, while the play is frequently wickedly funny mostly through Diane's showbizzy quips the dialogue feels genuine and believable. Best among About Face's all-Equity cast of four is Levi Holloway as Alex, whose performance is spontaneous and natural. His Alex is sensitive yet world-wise and a little world-weary. Though the script never spells this out, he seems a country boy who has learned how to survive in the city on little more than his youth and looks. As Mitchell, Lea Coco has the looks to make him a credible movie star and perfectly captures the blank slate of an actor who never lets anyone fully see who's inside if he even knows himself. (For those who may be wondering, the full-frontal nudity that was used in the show's New York production is not done in this one you'll have to be content with seeing the boys in boxer briefs.)

The agent Diane cut from the same cloth as Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold of HBO's Entourage - has all the best lines and, as played by Mary Beth Fisher, there's no doubt what a shark she is. I would like to have seen her drop character once in a while, though. While Diane must certainly prides herself on being always in control, it would be interesting to see her get more scared or angry when her control is threatened. There's also a little thing that she does with her voice raising the second syllable of a word or even raising the second half of a first syllable - that's a little overused. Still, she's watchable throughout and none of her many comic lines fail to land.

As Alex's girlfriend Ellen, a gold-digger who's rather adrift in the Manhattan jungle, Heather Prete needs to create a rather fuller character than the sketchy one Beane wrote, but she's likable and sympathetic.

The Little Dog Laughed is the last production to be directed for About Face by Eric Rosen, the company's artistic director and one of its co-founders. Rosen, who has just accepted a job as Artistic Director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, has given his farewell production an easy, relaxed pace and created a convincing snapshot of a New York where the lives of the rich, powerful and famous intersect with those who will never likely know anything like that sort of success. Like so much of About Face's work under Rosen's tenure, it's a gay-themed play that seeks to resonate with a wider audience than just the gay community.

The Little Dog Laughed will be performed Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through February 17, 2008 at the Hoover-Leppen Theatre in the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., Chicago. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com.


Photo: Michael Brosilow



Editor's Note: On February 2, 2008, the following statement was released by Eric Rosen, co-founder and Artistic Director of About Face Theatre:

To the members of the Chicago theatre Press community:

Thank you for attending the production of The Little Dog Laughed I directed last month.

After discussions with Douglas Carter Beane, who attended the gala opening for the play on January 16, it has become clear that one directorial choice I made for the production of The Little Dog Laughed did not fully realize the stage directions Mr. Beane indicated in the printed edition of the play on page 23, specifically that the characters Alex and Mitchell appear in the nude. I had made the directorial decision to stage the scene without nudity, and members of Actors Equity were therefore not notified that they would be required to appear nude when we auditioned the play. Though Mr. Beane requested after seeing the production that the staging occur with nudity, we are unfortunately not able to do so. Sensitive to this difficult situation, and not wanting to disrupt the production, Mr. Beane has graciously agreed to withhold his objection to this change in stage direction, although he wanted it brought to your attention.

I apologize for the situation.

Eric Rosen

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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