The Little Dog Laughed - Second Stage Theatre, NYC

Little DogThe buzz is out that the Second Stage production of Douglas Carter Beane’s latest play The Little Dog Laughed is probably going to move to a larger theatre. And with good reason. This work is extremely witty, entertaining, and relevant to the present moment in American culture. Beane says it's about “the last taboo” -- being gay in Hollywood -- and it certainly is about that. But actually gayness could almost be a metaphor for any socially unacceptable behavior, attitude, existence even in an increasingly right wing and paranoid American culture. Are not secret wire-tapping and internet use monitoring by government agencies just the latest examples of how un-private our private lives are becoming? We’re all gay now. Or potentially so.

Ben Brantley wrote in his New York Times review that the aggressive agent (played brilliantly by Julie White) is a “master problem solver in an industry where perception equals reality,” as if show business, and particularly La La Land, is defined in such a manner. But really “perception equals reality” is the present law of the land, ruled over by Karl Rove and Dick “Shooter” Cheney. For them it’s an extremely useful concept. For our president it embodies the kind of confusion that Ronald Reagan suffered from as his Alzheimer’s descended while he was still in office. Most likely George W. is now convinced that he was in fact a fighter pilot in some war somewhere because he did, after all, land a plane on an aircraft carrier at sea—even if it was only a few miles off the coast of California. He also proclaimed the victor in a war for illusory WMDs while dressed in a quasi-military costume out of central casting. So who is actually in what closet?

But back to the play, I mean the one written by Beane as opposed to our national drama, farce or tragedy (depending on who is writing the script). The story involves a handsome leading man, Mitchell Green, who has yet to make it big. His career is on the edge of success so the fact that he is homosexual (something he regularly denies for most of the first act) is simply not information that would be useful to his stardom. As his agent Diane says, when explaining why he must keep quiet and in the closet in order for his breakthrough role as a “gay man” to be appreciated: “If a perceived straight actor plays a gay role in a feature film, it’s noble, it’s a stretch.” Since Mitchell continues to resist her logic (see he thinks he has fallen in love with a young hustler and wants to come out and be his real self), Diane tells a story from her early career of a deep humiliation that she simply had to suck up. But she explains, “That’s how one wins. By shutting up. You can win. And all you have to do is shut up. Don’t say anything.” A chilling, but likely realistic message in an age where the big lie is now the new truth.

We have only to watch Oprah Winfrey as she castigates James Frey (the lying memoirist of A Million Little Pieces fame) for “disappointing” her, reclaiming her role as goddess of truth and right thinking. But a few short weeks before she had suggested on a phone call to Larry King’s television show that the line between memoir and fiction (truth and falsehood) was a slippery and consequently insignificant one. Then the very next day, after shaming Frey, when I tuned in to see if she was still on her truth bender, who should she have on her show but Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, the stars of Brokeback Mountain. This gay-themed cowboy film is much beloved by everyone, or so it would seem, and of course the whole chirpy Winfrey dialogue was a coy dance around the subject of homosexuality, with a good deal of emphasis being paid to the actual heterosexuality of the stars, accompanied by many giggles from actors and audience. Oprah was clearly happy to be back in La La Land, where truth and fiction so cunningly mingle and we never need to deal with the issue of why a gay man cannot play a straight role or vice verse without our worrying about his sexuality. Hey, folks, they call it acting for a reason.

I actually rather love this Little Dog play because it’s so provocative. Another big issue rumbling in the United States today is the so-called “Protection of Marriage” legislation. I label it so-called because I just cannot see how marriage needs a whole lot of protection. Doesn’t it provide protection? And haven’t 50% of marriages for the last thirty years or so ended in divorce? Such a failure rate is clearly not because gay people would like to get married since they don’t at present have that right. So basically, marriage is a legal agreement licensed by the state that any two idiots can enter at any time provided that those two are “a man and a woman.”

What lies at the heart of this no-marriage-for-gays movement is a combination of right wing hypocrisy and a deep-seated homophobia in our beloved land. Diane, who recognizes just how little Americans can bear the truth, saves the day for all by convincing Mitchell to bite the secrecy bullet in a sanctioned way: marry a woman, cheat with guys on the side, and become a much beloved movie star. As she points out to the wife candidate: “Just get married to Mitch and you will have a wonderful, wonderful life. Wealth, ease, celebrity.” We’ll see their pretty pusses on a thousand magazine covers. And no doubt they’ll drop by Oprah’s show to celebrate their connubial bliss with a good deal of sofa romping. Then we will all be so happy in the land of self-deception. - Victoria Sullivan

The Little Dog Laughed runs through February 26th: Tues/Sun @ 7pm, Wed-Sat @ 8pm, Sat/Sun @ 2pm
Second Stage Theatre
307 W 43rd Street (just west of 8th Ave.)
New York City 10036
212-246-4422
www.secondstagetheatre.com

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Ms. Sullivan is a poet and playwright who lives in Manhattan and has a little cabin outside of Woodstock, NY. When not brooding or laughing, she is generally traveling, writing, or staring at the trees.

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