Flashpoint Theatre Company is hosting the Philadelphia debut of a play satirizing the thorny politics of sexuality in Hollywood.
“The Little Dog Laughed” centers on Mitchell, a rising Hollywood star whose agent, Diane, would love nothing better than to keep him in the closet — a position made even more comical due to the fact that Diane herself is gay.
“She identifies as a lesbian but is non-practicing,” director Meghann Williams said. “Her real passion and fire is work. She doesn’t engage in relationships outside of work. It gives her character a window into what’s going on with her client, and she knows way in advance of anything he comes to conclusions about way before he thinks it.”
Diane’s job gets harder, Mitchell’s life gets more interesting and hilarity ensues when he meets hustler and love interest Alex.
After all, it is Hollywood, right?
“It’s the best kind of comedy in that it actually has something to say and, on a personal note, the themes about having to hide what you are, I think that it’s universal,” Williams said. “As a bisexual woman [myself], it’s a play that deals with themes about being true to yourself and your sexuality. It’s all very relevant to my life, so I feel like I can bring a more personal touch to the play. It attracted me because of that.”
Williams isn’t the only one attracted to the play. Written by Douglas Carter Beane (“To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar,” “Xanadu”) and opening in early 2006, “The Little Dog Laughed” was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award and a Tony during its run in off-Broadway and Broadway venues.
Williams hasn’t seen any of the New York productions of the play and, for artistic reasons, prefers it that way.
“I tend to like to not see any productions of anything that I’m directing if I can help it, because I am easily influenced and I would hate to put a copycat up on stage,” she said. “It wouldn’t be true.”
She added that she has a great amount of respect for what little she has seen of Beane’s work.
“I haven’t read anything else of his,” she said. “I like the movie ‘Xanadu’ but I didn’t see his book from the new musical, unfortunately. This is the only thing I know of them. If I can only go on this, then yes, I am a huge fan. He has given us this incredible script, though, and everything from the stage direction to just the little unspoken lines, he’s laid out exactly what we need.”
Did we mention there’s full nudity and adult situations in the play?
Williams, who was still in pre-production rehearsals when PGN spoke with her, said the cast was working its way up to the “situational” scenes.
“I think that’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about,” she said about the nude scenes. “We just staged what we call ‘the impeding blowjob.’ But we’re not rehearsing the scene nude until we get onto the stage under stage lights. That’s just a courtesy to the actors so they don’t have to do it under fluorescents in the rehearsal room. If you have to be naked on stage, there’s always going to be a little part of you saying, ‘Am I attractive enough?’ We’re concentrating on making the scene so important and passionate that you’re not thinking about these men as being naked. You want to be thinking about the character and what’s happening to them. It’s such a huge moment for Mitchell. He’s deciding to really go there and admit these feelings. It’s important.”
If Williams has her way, the audience will be more focused on the underlying issues the play pokes fun at than the flesh displayed on stage.
“I’ll admit, I’m a celebrity-gossip junkie,” she said. “So we’ve been talking a lot about Tom Cruise and the speculation about him and his friends: the John Travoltas, the Will Smiths, all of these things. We talked a lot in rehearsal about the stigma of being an openly gay man in Hollywood and the disconnect between being an openly gay man and an openly gay woman in Hollywood. Because that is becoming more and more accepted. Portia de Rossi came out and no one blinked an eye. It was celebrated and accepted. Should a marquis male star come out, it’s a big deal. Neil Patrick Harris came out while he was on Broadway and that sort of cushioned that for him. He’s had enormous success since then and I hope that’s more of the norm going forward.”
“The Little Dog Laughed” runs through May 30 at Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. For more information or tickets, visit www.flashpointtheatre.org or call (215) 665-9720.