The dish runs away with the show, not just the spoon, in Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony-nominated 2006 The Little Dog Laughed. SpeakEasy Stage Company presents the regional debut of this juicy comedy about a film actor, Mitchell, who falls in love with a hustler, Alex. Mitchell’s hyper agent, Diane, gets wind of the romance, as does Alex’s wanna-be girlfriend, Ellen. Of course, there’s no possibility that Mitchell is coming out — not if Diane has anything to say about it. The play, which opens next Friday, is a sly send-up of show-biz hypocrisy — terrain the fortysomething Beane previously mined in As Bees in Honey Drown.
Speaking from his apartment in New York, Beane explains that the original inspiration for the play came from “reading the daily blogs of hustlers. I was fascinated with how mundane they were and how full of dreams, hoping to meet the right guy and all.” He realized a hustler character had to have a john with a lot at stake. “The original character of Mitchell was a politician, and then he became a movie star, and then I started to write the Diane character. She sort of . . . took over.
“I knew in New York when we cast Julie White, her style of performance was going to eat this play, and I was up for that.” Beane laughs, as well he might, since White won a Tony for her role. As for Mitchell, he’s a composite of various celebrities Beane has encountered in his career. The very famous, he says, “have something that is very attractive — they’re blank slates. Mitchell is someone who’s coasted all his life, who finally says, ‘I get to be a person’ — or a facsimile of a person. So he’s a fun character because he’s figuring out things for the first time. This also makes him less premeditated. He’s lovable — that would be a good first love for Alex.”
Beane adds that there’s a tremendous difference between performing on film and on stage, and his choice to make Mitchell a film star was deliberate. “For theater, you have to be more intelligent, because there’s technique involved, but someone just off the street can be a fabulous screen actor.”
Despite the provocative theme, The Little Dog Laughed is also a love story, with narration provided by Diane — Beane’s nod to the influence of Thornton Wilder. “This play is me saying that I didn’t want to talk about fame and flash for a while. I wanted to talk about other things.” He adds that the work has had an interesting resonance with younger theatergoers. “When I talk to young gay men in their early 20s, they say, ‘So you would just go and just have sex with people?’, and they can’t believe it. They are so looking for the mate, which is not something we were looking for!”
THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED | Speakeasy Stage Company | Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont St, Boston | January 18–February 16 | $14-$49 | 617.933.8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com.