Tonight when I walked into London’s Garrick Theatre to see the West End revival of Douglas Carter Beane’s Tony-winning play The Little Dog Laughed, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting. Rupert Friend would be playing a gay actor trapped in the closet by career ambition — and his lesbian agent. What I didn’t expect was to see him standing in his underwear near the end of Act One lustfully admiring the naked young man in front of him.
If this were a motion picture, he’d probably be in contention for an Oscar for playing gay for pay. (In recent years, it’s worked for Colin Firth, Sean Penn, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Or maybe not. As staged at the Garrick, The Little Dog Laughed isn’t really that kind of a play (Oscar caliber). Too many quirky touches sometimes made it feel a bit Off Off Broadway, the acting occasionally lapsed into self-consciousness (although Friend acquitted himself nicely throughout), and while the two female stars/characters inexplicably got the most laughs during the first half, they kept interrupting the love/lust story to the point of annoyance.
But when Hollywood star Mitchell Green (Friend’s character) asked Alex (the hustler) out on a real date on their third meeting, after two pay-for-play encounters, because he wanted to “try being happy for a while,” my heart skipped a beat. This is the kind of leap of faith that people, gay and straight, should take more often. Would this, I wondered, be Pretty Woman with two male protagonists?
Of course not. By the time the second act rolled around (and the couple beside me, perhaps disapproving of the gay thing, had left), the story took a sharp turn. Complications set in, the women became more pivotal to the plot — and stopped addressing the audience directly — and ultimately, love/lust did not conquer all.
So why then did the little dog laugh?