Left - Melanie Zanetti and Nick Cook. Cover - Tom O'Sullivan and Nick Cook. Photos - Rob Maccoll
Think Pretty Woman. But even gayer.
Rich man falls for the prostitute with the heart of gold... Except in The Little Dog Laughed, the season-opening play from the Queensland Theatre Company, Mr Moneybags is Hollywood hunk-on-the-rise Mitchell Green, and his 'companion' is New York hustler Alex. Who is very much a man – constantly naked on stage as if to prove the point.
Otherwise, you half expect someone to snap shut a jewellery box on the other's hand: Mitchell is searching not for sex but for companionship; he wants to take Alex to a movie premiere and offers to buy him new clothes; the question arises of what constitutes paid service and what doesn't.
The premise is outrageous; the romance a little limp (there's a line there about wrists, but mercifully the leads don't resort to stereotype). But as theatrical farce it's got some zing - delivered primarily by its two female protagonists, who thoroughly upstage the fumbling gents.
Mitchell (Tom O'Sullivan), according to monstrous agent Diane (Caroline Kennison), has a "slight recurring case of homosexuality". To make it big, she demands, the closet door must remain firmly shut. So Mitchell orders a little room service to his New York hotel suite – rent boy Alex (Nick Cook) who, he declares, only has sex with men for the money. At least that's what he tells his girlfriend, Ellen (Melanie Zanetti).
Much of New York playwright Douglas Carter Beane's Tony Award-nominated premise is frustratingly derivative of gay writers - the delusion of conformity psychologically battling the longing for a deeper romantic connection. 'I'm not gay, I just have sex with guys', etc. Which is not to say it's divorced from the reality of many, but the struggle is now familiar. And, in the case of these two savvy 20-somethings, the lack of self-awareness seems a little far-fetched, a little dated even.
There's nothing particularly new about Carter Beane's Hollywood send-up, either, though his cynicism of celebrity spin cuts particularly deep. Mitchell is set to play a gay role but the studio will only make the film with a heterosexual object of female fan obsession. When word of his 'special friend' hits the headlines nervous studio bosses sack the gay scriptwriter and water down the same-sex scenario. When straight men play gay it's daring and Oscar-worthy, says Diane; when gay men play to type your megaplex blockbuster fades to an indulgent arthouse picture. The hypocritical double-standard is well drawn.
Diane - the bawdy, fast-talking epitome of a Hollywood agent - has stars in her eyes, too. Producers and directors that used to ignore her now beg to make movies with her. With Mitchell she's gained movie-making clout and she won't give it up without a fight. Kennison is a paper-thin typecast, but nails the impersonation to draw the biggest laughs.
Perhaps the most fully-realised character is Ellen, the spoilt Y-genner whose comfortable life is shattered by her boyfriend’s new relationship. Zanetti, a member of QTC’s Emerging Artists Program, is funny and adorable in equal measure and is sure to shine brighter in 2010.
The two leads throw themselves bravely into one explicit romp, though the full-frontal assault on the audience seems a blatant shock tactic. Mitchell and Alex are strangely unaffected by their nagging feelings, which leaves the performances of O’Sullivan and Cook (who seems to over-cook the Brooklyn tough-guy act) coldly unaffecting as a result. Simone Romaniuk’s sparse design, meanwhile, adds little to proceedings save for the unnecessary distraction of the open wings and visible props coordinator.
In the end, the dish really does run away with the spoon, so to speak, in a thoroughly un-Hollywood ending that is oh-so-Hollywood. It’s keenly-observed stuff, a genuinely witty script, and director Michael Gow doesn’t step on any lines to draw out some terrific performances from his leading ladies.
You’ll laugh, too.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
The Little Dog Laughed
by Douglas Carter Beane
Director Michael Gow
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Dates: Monday 8 February – Saturday 13 March 2010
Tickets: $40 - $60 Under 30: $30
Bookings: QTIX 136 246 or www.qldtheatreco.com.au
Please note: The Little Dog Laughed contains nudity and adult themes