2007 was a good year for actress Julie White. She had a memorable role in the biggest movie of that year, Transformers, in which she played Shia LaBouf’s hilariously in-the-dark mom (a role she will reprise in next summer’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). That same summer, White won a Tony Award for her performance as Diane, the all-knowing talent agent who serves as ringmaster of The Little Dog Laughed. Her Tony acceptance speech alone made many want to see the play but, alas, it had already closed on Broadway.
Praise the Theatre Gods, Julie has resurrected Diane and moved her where she was meant to be all along: Culver City, California! The Little Dog Laughed is having its West Coast premiere through December 21 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, right across the street from the Sony Studios. Joining her are original New York castmates Johnny Galecki, Brian Henderson and Zoe Lister-Jones, as well as original director Scott Ellis.
Written by Douglas Carter Beane (author of the book for Xanadu on Broadway as well as the screenplay for To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar), The Little Dog Laughed is a fairly slight but hugely enjoyable satire about the chaos that ensues when a closeted gay movie star, Mitchell Greene (very well-played by Henderson), falls in love with a male prostitute, Alex (the winning Galecki, who can also be seen currently on the clever sitcom The Big Bang Theory). Alex’s best friend-with-benefits Ellen (a very funny turn by Lister-Jones) complicates matters all the more.
It falls to Mitchell’s lesbian agent, Diane, to save her career, salvage Mitchell’s, redeem Ellen and try to get Alex out of the picture entirely. Her desire to wring a Hollywood-esque happy ending out of this scenario, as well as the gay-themed play she and Mitchell have just optioned to turn into a movie, is the force that propels The Little Dog Laughed to its wry conclusion.
And what a force Julie White is as Diane. While verging perilously at times on going over-the-top, she never does. She succeeds in making Diane hysterical yet human. What’s more, Diane is clearly the smartest of Hollywood power players, even though it has taken her a lot of humiliating turns at playing second-fiddle to get there. The Sunday matinee audience of Hollywood-savvy folks I saw the play with clearly sympathized with her, and loved her.
There are a handful of smart, philosophical monologues in the play that give it some depth, as well as some racy sequences of man-on-man action to titillate gay observers. But The Little Dog Laughed is primarily a farce, and a good if not great one. With a cast this good, though, as well as Allen Moyer’s great sliding-panels set, the material is easily elevated to the ranks of comedy heaven.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.