The Little Dog Laughed

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

07/11/2008 - 29/11/2008

Production Details



Friends, Lovers, Enemies, Agents – acquire a taste of Hollywood at Downstage!

Mitchell Green has a problem. He’s the beloved Hollywood hero all the ladies want to be with and all the men want to be (and maybe be with as well). But he isn’t who he says he is … and by falling in love Mitchell could bring his whole show world crashing down.

Luckily for him, his hard-case uber-Agent, Diane, is working on an ethics-free solution that will keep Mitchell in business, her in Blahniks and the public in the dark. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Hollywood!

For sure the hottest ticket in the capital this spring, THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED is a Tony Award nominated, smash-hit Broadway comedy, starring four of Wellington’s hottest young actors: Kip Chapman (The American Pilot, Apollo 13), Sophie Hambleton (VÜNDERBRA!), Richard Knowles (The Gods of Warm Beer) and Renée Sheridan (Jeff Koons, A Streetcar named Desire).

Designed by Chapman Tripp Award nominee Daniel Williams and directed by Willem Wassenaar (Chapman Tripp Award winner for directing Angels in America at Downstage 2007).

And not to forget, it certainly contains nudity and adult themes.

THE LITLLE DOG LAUGHED, sponsored by The Dominion Post, is playing at Downstage Theatre from Friday 7 November, Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm and Thursday to Saturday at 7.30 pm. There will be two $20 previews on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 November and afternoon matinees at 3 pm on Saturday 15 and 22 November.

Ticket prices range from $20 to $42. Special early bird and group discounts apply. Tickets can be purchased online at www.downstage.co.nz, by phone at (04) 801 6946 or in person at Downstage’s box office.

For more information on the show please visit www.downstage.co.nz/little-dog or the Downstage Theatre Blog at www.downstagetheatre.blogspot.com

"The tastiest homegrown comedy of manners to hit New York" Ben Brantley, The New York Times


CAST
Mitchell: Richard Knowles
Diane: Renée Sheridan
Ellen: Sophie Hambleton
Alex: Kip Chapman

CREW  
Lighting Design: Glenn Ashworth
Sound Design: Thomas Press
Design Assistant: Rose Morrison
Production Manager: Simon Rayner
Technical Operator: Marc Edwards
Stage Manager: Sonia Hardie
Publicity and Marketing: Markus Stitz
Production Photography: Stephen A'Court   



Smart, satirical, sharp

Review by Lynn Freeman 20th Nov 2008

Seeing this play, and its even more ambitiously directed predecessor Adagio, making the very most of the versatile Downstage stage, is a potent reminder how much would be lost to Wellington theatre if the current management plan fails to persuade CNZ to continue its funding from June next year.

The Little Dog Laughed is a ruthless look at the cult of celebrity in Hollywood.  But hey, "stars", whether they are A, B, C or even, as we have here in NZ, Z-list celebrities, want fame and fortune and if that means locking the doors of their closets in case skeletons come out, so be it.

In this case, handsome movie star Mitchell is battling with the demon of homosexuality, on the red carpet he takes the arm of his agent, who is handily a lesbian.  The rent boy Mitchell expected only to be a moment of pleasure, becomes his companion.  Alex, ironically, given that he’s a self-confessed hustler and thief and given what he has to do for a living, is the most genuine person we meet.  That includes Ellen, his girlfriend, who’s out for number one.  Back to Mitch, who discovers that finding his true love may come at a very high cost indeed, but is he prepared to pay it as the media closes in? 

Willem Wassenar, last year’s Chapman Tripp winner for best new director, is fearless and so are his cast.

Kip Chapman as Alex presents us with a compelling mix of vulnerability and street wise cunning, and as Mitch Richard Knowles takes a little time to find his feet but by the time comes for the heavy duty emotional work, he’s right on form.  Renee Sheridan is a favourite actor of Wassenar’s and that’s no surprise, she does the bitchy American belle to a tee and revels in the role of Mitchell’s manipulative agent.  Sophie Hambleton, straight out of Toi Whakaari last year, is wonderfully brassy as Ellen.

Douglas Carter Beane’s play deconstructs Hollywood, and that’s what set designer,  Daniel Williams does too, brilliantly.

This is a smart, satirical script honed by this director and his cast.

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Slick Dog takes dig at Hollywood

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 10th Nov 2008

The Little Dog Laughed is a slick comedy of manners poking fun at that the mores and hypocrisy of that tired old target: Hollywood. Tinsel Town is personified in the central character of Diane, an acerbic, amoral, obsessively driven, Machiavellian agent who schemes and plots her way to becoming a movie power-broker.

Her problem is that her leading actor is a closet gay nervously attracted to rent boys. The play she wants to make into a film has a central character that is gay but she’s after the big time and she could get there if the role were played by a straight actor.

 "If a perceived straight actor," she says, "portrays a gay role in a feature film, it’s noble, it’s a stretch. It’s the pretty lady putting on a fake nose and winning an Oscar." Brokeback Mountain would have played only in art houses if its leads had been gay.

Can Diane’s star, Mitchell, like Rock Hudson, appear straight? Will the unseen playwright allow his script to be butchered so that the central relationship in it is turned from gay to straight? Can gay-for-pay boy Alex and his girl friend Ellen sort out their problems? Can a Hollywood happy ending be achieved for all concerned? Diane will stop at nothing to get the correct answers to these burning questions and in the end has to resort, like a devious fairy godmother, to waving a magic wand.

It is all told in short scenes and monologues, with sharp and often funny one-liners ("A writer with final cut, I would rather give firearms to small children."), and direct address to the audience and many unseen characters. However, except in the developing relationship between Mitchell and Alex, it never seems to get much beyond the characterization and smart repartee of the level of Will and Grace. 

Richard Knowles as Mitchell and Kip Chapman as Alex establish a believable relationship when Mitchell and Alex find that there is more to their meetings in hotel rooms than money and sex. Sophie Hambleton overcomes an underdeveloped role with a sharply etched, appealing performance as the insecure Ellen who sees herself as road kill.

As the insensitive, manipulating Diane Renee Sheridan has the predatory air of a raptor and she looks a million dollars but some of her monologues were hard to follow because of an American accent getting in the way.

The highlight of the evening is Daniel Williams’ brilliant setting of a broken Hollywood Sign, which is described on its official website as a universal metaphor for ambition, success, glamour for "a dazzling place, industry and dream we call H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D." The two metre high letters, some lying on the stage, ingeniously become cupboards, beds, a deck chair, and doors. The setting says it all.

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Real themes, engrossing performers, pertinent message

Review by Jackson Coe 10th Nov 2008

The music is pumping, the lights are flashing and the crowd is roaring as we enter the auditorium at Downstage and take our seats for The Little Dog Laughed. The faux excitement is infectious. 

Yet with closer inspection we see hints that the play’s themes are more harrowing than we may at first assume. The atmosphere is staged. The iconic ‘Hollywood’ sign, a symbol of stardom and fantasy, lies scattered about in ruins. Dreams are in pieces and we are about to explore the tough reality that the things we want and the things which will make us happy are not always the same thing. This stunning production shows that director Willem Wassenaar finds it no struggle to demonstrate again and again his sharp aptitude for directing riveting theatre.

Richard Knowles plays Mitchell Green, a rising actor on the brink of stardom who ‘suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality’. His agent Diane, played by a saucy Renee Sheridan, is trying her hardest to make sure Mitch succeeds while helping to keep his sexuality a closely-guarded secret. Her efforts are undermined when Mitch falls for Alex, a young rent-boy played by Kip Chapman. In a series of racy exchanges we see the two exploring an intimacy which gradually turns to love. The show comes to a climax when Alex’s sometime girlfriend Ellen, played by Sophie Hambleton, returns with a complication which could either be a serious problem or a genius solution.

Amidst the more notable strengths in this production is the script, a quality work penned by American playwright Douglas Carter Beane. We know that Hollywood films push an idealised version of heterosexual love, and that the industry which surrounds it is no better. In undermining many typical narrative components the play taps into a more subversive analysis of human relationships. For instance, one of the driving forces of the action is agent Diane’s work to get a play turned into a movie; in a self-referential twist, it seems to be suggested that it is the very play we are watching that is being discussed. We think that we are breaking away from the Hollywood system until we hit the ending, when we realise that the might of the Hollywood machine, that picture of happiness which habitually shapes us into its image, cannot be escaped so easily. All in all, it is in my opinion a damn fine piece of writing.

The play’s themes are reinforced well by Daniel William’s original set design. The set is comprised of the ruined letters of a Hollywood sign, signifying that we are treading a world beyond Hollywood ideals where the true desires of the individual may have more chance of being realised. His set pieces move fluidly and surprisingly naturally about the stage, considering their size and shape, and the whole visual package is remarkably crisp.

The play’s content is suitably challenging for actors and audience alike, and here director Willem Wassenaar has guided his players superbly. The stage is alive from beginning to ending, and a range of risque moments are handled with utter expertise…it’s pretty safe at this point to say that Wassenaar knows his hot men, that’s for sure.

This play is a great piece of contemporary theatre with real themes, engrossing performers and a pertinent message. Wassenaar’s work continues to be some of the most interesting and engaging in Wellington, and the future of Wellington theatre will be bright as long as he is here.

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Cutting wit: not to be missed

Review by Mary Anne Bourke 09th Nov 2008

And who wouldn’t laugh to see such fun? This biting New York satire of showbiz hypocrisy has inspired Wassenaar and Co to turn on yet another hugely spunky entertainment.

Take the set, which is an emblem of the energy and flair of this production. It’s as though the director and his designer, the colour/space wunderkind Daniel Williams, have lifted the word HOLLYWOOD from its hills (like, with a helicopter crane) and smashed it against the concrete wall of Downstage. They thereby claim the space to a degree which I, for one, have never seen done so emphatically. What ‘the star’ (Richard Knowles) then goes on to do to it needs to be seen to be appreciated.

This dazzling comedy is about the problem of being gay in showbiz – hey, it’s much harder there, where it really counts. A male star falls for a bi-sexual rent-boy who, amazingly, starts to love him back. This could destroy the star’s career if it gets out. Never fear, the star’s agent is having none of it. But another artful story strand is about the impossibility of such a story being made into a big-budget movie, so the stories converge in a delightful frisson of meta-theatre. I’m still smiling when I think of the scene where the agent and the star negotiate over lunch with a prickly writer – who is always just off screen – for a property just like this one. Naturally, there will be changes …

The intriguing thing about this production is the tonal risk it takes on its way to hitting the dramatic high notes, and hit them it does. A breezy camp style sustains a false gaiety, which means when true feeling breaks through, it is all the more searing. This is most marked in Sophie Hambleton’s performance as Ellen, the betrayed girlfriend. No slag in the sexploitation stakes herself – Ellen goes clubbing on her sugar-daddy’s credit card – Hambleton creates one of several genuine heart-stopping moments when she suddenly ‘gets real’.

But this is a beautifully orchestrated ensemble piece. Witness Kip Chapman: he threaten to steals the show – or at least his first scene – with his tarty Manhattan schoolboy poses, but it’s all part of the plan; he soon drop-kicks it back to the others. So that, by the end (which is brilliantly conceived) – and in the best possible way – you’d be hard-pressed to say whose story this is. (NB. That’s a hint. And a trick question.)

Richard Knowles has lovely moments as the straight-acting heartthrob Mitchell Green, whose closet desire sparks the story. Playing the part with a seemingly artless realism is an excellent foil to everyone else’s posturing and preserves the power to shock when he shows his true colours. I’d only question: whether the upbeat directorial approach allows this character to plumb the abject state (drunk, confused, hungover) and make for greater contrast with this potentially life-changing experience.

Last, but far from least, Renée Sheridan is a comic delight whenever she sashays on as the Machiavellian talent agent, Diane, who brings the law of Tinseltown to bear upon these innocents. Played not as a fusty back-room ten-percenter, but a foxy star manqué – always playing to the audience while selling someone down the river and swotting up the legalese to make it stick – this character manages to take Beane’s cutting wit beyond cynical and back to funny again.

Not to be missed. 

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