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Not Your Children’s Nursery Rhyme:

The Little Dog Laughed
City Stage • 21 N. Front St.
3/10-27, Thurs-Sun, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $12-$18

Adam Poole as Mitchell and Henry Phillip Blanton as Alex in City Stage’s ‘The Little Dog Laughed,’ opening Thursday. Courtesy photo

“Hey diddle diddle/The cat and the fiddle/The cow jumped over the moon/The little dog laughed to see such sport/And the dish ran away with the spoon!” The absurdity of this rhyme leaves children in smiles, but for playwright Douglas Carter Beane, it left him pondering a deeper question: What is the price worth paying for happiness?

Originally produced off Broadway in 2006, Beane’s “Little Dog” is a satire on Hollywood’s unchanging hypocrisy about sex. For those who never noticed, openly gay leading men are scarce in Tinseltown. It was nominated in 2007 for the Tony Award for Best Play, and also won a Tony for best actress, compliments to the role of Diane (played by Julie White in the 2006 production).

The plot revolves around making dreams come true and falling in love, and what each person is willing to risk for it. The main characters in the play are a rising film star, his agent, a rent boy and the rent boy’s girlfriend; all of whom are vital to the outcome of the play. Set in New York, the show reveals life-changing situations and the decisions made to get through them. Though inspired by a nursery rhyme, this is not children’s theatre—quite the opposite, as the show contains adult language/situations and nudity.

Directed by Mike O’Neil at City Stage, the show opens March 10th and runs through the 27th. O’Neil gratefully took time out from preparing the play to answer some questions about the upcoming production.

e: What made you decide to direct this play? Did anything in particular catch your attention?
MO: It actually started a year ago when City Stage had an open slot. They wanted to know if I had anything to fill it and they needed something right away. So a couple friends gave me [“The Little Dog Laughed”] to read; I loved it, they loved it. We sat on it a while and thought that maybe we would do it, and then [City Stage’s artistic director] Justin Smith came late summer, and said he wanted to do it and make it part of the season.

The thing that attracted me from the beginning was the writing. It was very witty and stylish. The writer, Douglas Carter Beane, is inspired by the 1930s and  ‘40s-style comedy, and that really comes through. [All the characters] are sharp, everyone has a quick wit. They seem to be able to come up with that one line the rest of us only think of on the way home. The play just grabbed us right from the beginning.

e: The cast for this production is really small—only four people, in fact. Tell me about the characters and how the actors are fulfilling the roles.
MO: When we read the play, we had a short list of people we thought should do it, even without ever seeing them play this kind of role—maybe people we’ve only really seen in a musical. But, by how they looked and what they gave off when they were on stage, we knew they were well-suited.

The basic premise of the story is that one of Diane’s (Barbara Weetman) top clients is a rising film star. Mitchell (Adam Poole) just won an award, something like a Golden Globe, and he and Diane are in New York for the ceremony. Diane becomes aware of a play that she thinks has a great role for Mitchell. But if they buy this property, Diane suggests that it’s best to keep Mitchell’s sexuality in the closet in order to get all the accolades she feels would launch him. While there to get the property, Mitchell gets drunk and calls Alex, the rent boy (Henry Phillip Blanton). Though they don’t consummate their relationship, Alex leaves with Mitchell’s heart. This is the first time Mitchell has been able to talk openly about his sexuality with someone. However, Diane finds out about it and is at first angry, and Alex gets his girlfriend Ellen (Morganna Bridgers) pregnant. Eventually, Diane is the one who tries to find a solution to make everyone happy.

e: Tell me about the title. How does a children’s nursery rhyme relate to the overall play?
MO: We’ve tried to figure out how this relates other than near the end of the play when Diane references it. We think it has something to do with the desire for a happy ending no matter how absurd that ending may be. I think we’re close to what [the relation] is. I haven’t read anything from the playwright as to what it means, but I think we are kind of close.

e: What do you expect to get from this play?
MO: Well, we don’t know what to expect from the play. Sometimes you’re asked to do something, and you discover that you really like it. Sometimes you long to do something, and this is one of those things we longed to do. It’s not so much the message that spoke to us, but the writing and the really wonderful characters. What we want is to work with a group of wonderful actors on a wonderfully written script. Of course, the main thing is, we hope to entertain people who come to see it. We want people to love it.

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