Review – The Little Dog Laughed – Garrick

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On Monday night I went to see The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick. Little Dog is about actor Mitchell Green (Rupert Friend, well muscled but otherwise flat), who starts the evening defining himself as not gay while calling rent boys to his hotel room. His agent Diane (razor sharp Tamsin Greig) wants to keep him marketable and the truth in the closet. In this case, the truth is said Manhattan rent boy, Alex (Harry Lloyd) who’s also in denial about liking men. Only (hurray!), after a heartwarming scene about formative early sexual experiences (the “merit badge that dare not speak its name”), the guys do admit they’ve got the hots for each other, and it’s trousers down and time to get the gay on. Next problem? Alex’s girlfriend, Ellen (Gemma Arterton), and to say much more would ruin the fun.

Little Dog Laughed is a really odd show to see now, newish, in 2010 (it was written in 2005). I can accept that there still might be people in America and England that are uncomfortable with being gay, but, given how many actors are gay, it just all seemed a little hard to swallow. The whole thing would be completely intolerable if the agent weren’t a lesbian, but, since she is, her “homophobia” really reads as simply an accurate reading of what the American viewing public wants to see (an actor “women can dream of, and men can envy”). Her desire to suppress whatever truth about her “property” she needs to in order to keep him marketable is venality, ultimately, except … well … a 30 year old gay actor who is actually still not willing to admit to himself what gender he is attracted to? I couldn’t buy it. The playwright attempts to jazz the whole thing up with some really fresh dialogue, and succeeds in making a brilliant “actor and his manager negotiate with a playwright” scene, but as an overall work it felt clunky, like it had been written in college by someone destined to go into sitcoms.

I’ve got to give a nod to the costume and set designer for a beautiful palette of black, white and grey – I’m not used to having the actors match the furniture, but this worked for me. And Greig was just hot as the clawing, game-playing agent willing to step all over her client’s personal life to get herself ahead of the Hollywood game. She struggled a bit in the opening scene (the audience interaction was very clunky especially given how unresponsive we were), but went on to basically set the stage on fire for the rest of the show. Friend wasn’t really able to match her, unfortunately, but like Jessica Rabbit, I think this was more about how he was written than a bad performance. Lloyd seemed human and believable, but Arterton wasn’t able to make her character seem like anything more than filler while the set was being changed.

A little bit about the Garrick: the theater is one that I remember both fondly and with aggravation, from when I saw Zorro there; while I loved the show, I was incredibly frustrated with the blocked view of the upper two-thirds of the stage from my way-under-the-balcony seats. Fortunately there was no swinging from chandeliers or second story swordplay (or singing) to drive me batty in my row Q seats – just two little scenes in which someone stood in an open doorway which was blocked (grr!) utterly by the light clamped on to the roof above. Aaargh! Garrick, you win again! But, you know, it was kind of a potluck with the seats anyway, and, as I was asked afterward, I was entertained sufficiently to not mind. Still, this was a fairly slight night overall.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, January 19th, 2010. The Little Dog Laughed continues booking through 10th Apr 2010. A review of the New York production can be seen on the New York Times.)

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