Hip to be Gay

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little-dog-laughed.bmpWhen watching the play The Little Dog Laughed, one gets the same feelings as when one dons that eye-catching white designer shirt with a one-of-a-kind pattern of embroidered suns in brilliant persimmon, or when one is placidly lying on a massage table in a destination spa in Scottsdale getting a body wrap of papaya and hibiscus extract mixed with kelp – fabulously hip, extraordinarily urban, unapologetically, uhmmm, gay. The Little Dog Laughed, the story of a closeted actor looking for love and his agent looking for the next big movie deal, was a hit last year off-Broadway, and then Broadway, and won a Tony for Julie White, who turned in a dazzlingly over-the-top comedic performance as Diane, the agent; it is now getting an unabashedly hip, and yes, very gay production- briskly directed and wonderfully acted- from Chicago’s leading gay and lesbian theater, About Face Theater. Although it does not aspire to present great tragic themes or multitudes of intellectual theatrical somersaults, it is still a great, fun night at the theater, especially in the confines of the impressive Hoover-Leppen Theatre at Center on Halsted, the city’s GLBT community center.

The Little Dog Laughed, as Chris Jones points out in his favorable review, has a very slight plot: Diane, the agent, comes upon a hot theatrical property that she thinks will propel her client, Mitchell, a closeted actor whose pastime is canoodling with male prostitutes, into superstardom when turned into a movie. But Mitchell falls for Alex, one of his canoodlers, who has a dysfunctional semi-emotional relationship with Ellen, and these two puts Diane’s plans to turn her client into the next big Hollywood thing into jeopardy. So what’s a battle-scarred, ruthless, bitchy lesbian agent to do? Well, you know what comes next- Diane’s manipulation and conniving leads to everyone maybe living unhappily ever after (at the end of the play, no one really gets to live life as they want to live it if they are honest with themselves, well, maybe except for Diane). But one doesn’t go to The Little Dog Laughed for the story- one goes to it for the wonderfully glib, quotable, of-the-moment, and yes, gayer-than-a-clutch-bag-studded-with-amethyst-at-the-Tonys one-liners, and the sizzle and perfect comedic timing of the cast. About Face’s production succeeds primarily because the cast is able to deliver Douglas Carter Beane’s zingers with the panache, polish, and hip sensibility that they demand. Lea Coco, who I have seen a lot of at Chicago Shakespeare and Steppenwolf, plays closeted Mitchell as a nice guy with a healthy dose of endearing neuroses. Heather Prete, who I literally saw a lot of as she roamed the Goodman stage as a naked and mute Marilyn Monroe a couple of years ago in Arthur Miller’s Finishing the Picture, gives Ellen a tragic-comic spin mixed with some The OC wackiness. Levi Holloway, who I have not seen in anything at all, is impressive as the rent boy, mixing puppy dog adoration with a confident self-possession. Mary Beth Fisher, terrific as always, anchors the play with her Diane. It is a showy role and she digs into it with enthusiasm- she is caustic but sympathetic, hard-hearted but silly. Although I adored Julie White’s performance when I saw the New York production last year, I believe Mary Beth Fisher’s performance works well with a slightly different interpretation: it’s less zany, less attention-grabbing, and as I mentioned in a previous blog post, less fag-haggy, more gayish Carol Burnett than Karen from Will and Grace. This production is a great au revoir to Chicago from About Face’s Artistic Director Eric Rosen, who is leaving soon to become Artistic Director of Kansas City Rep.

Speaking of Eric Rosen, he left a scathing rejoinder on Rob Kozlowski’s blog after an anonymous blog reader posted a review of one of the preview performances. Kris Vire has picked up on it too in his blog. I think it’s an interesting thing to think about- what is the responsibility of arts and culture bloggers, and their avid blog comment-leavers, who are not journalists and arts critics per se, regarding posting comments about a play before it opens? I have a personal rule that I do not post anything about a play before it officially opens, in the spirit of the ethical rules that bind arts critics and the artistic communities they follow, but that’s just me. Some people feel that blogging has its own rules (what are they?) and its own demands and responsibilities (again, I’d be interested to know what these are) with regards to criticizing, providing feedback, commenting, call it what you may, on a work of art. I’d be interested to hear what my readers think.

The Little Dog Laughed runs until February 17 at the Hoover-Leppen Theatre, Center on Halsted, 3656 Halsted street.

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