I’ve seen some very varied shows in the last month or so. This time of year brings out some gems, and some garbage. Fortunately, the theatre I’ve seen has been more at the diamond than the rough end of the scale.
Backyard Productions put on Summer Shorts at the Gryphon Theatre which was a selection of five short plays with varied themes and a high caliber of acting. The Look of Love at Downstage is Jennifer Ward-Leland’s take on a range of love songs from writers such as George Harrison, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Stephen Sondheim, John Lennon, Jacques Brel, and Burt Bacharach.
I also saw the fabulous play The Little Dog Laughed at Downstage, which was everything good theatre should be – I was entertained, amused, provoked and inspired. It may well be a contender for the best play I have seen this year. Here are the highlights:
The plot – a gay male actor (Mitchell) and his lesbian agent (Diane) pose as a couple for the sake of the press. He has made his career on playing rugged action heroes and it won’t do either of their bank accounts any good for him to come out now.
He has a penchant for rent boys but starts a relationship with one (Alex) which threatens to blow his cover (I apologize for the terrible pun). Alex has a girlfriend (Ellen) who discovers his betrayal, although she can hardly complain as she has been prostituting herself for a sugar daddy. This is what passes for relationships in Hollywood.
Themes – theatre versus film – a rich seam of material is well and truly mined. When Diane pitches her idea to a screenwriter, it becomes apparent that the play is not as straight-forward as it seemed. There will be changes. How far would you go for money and is your reputation worth keeping if it’s based on lie?
The set (Daniel Williams) – a minimalist backdrop against which the Hollywood letters are strewn across the stage to become variously a drinks cabinet; a sun-lounger; and a bed. They are adapted and altered with a realism that makes them functional as well as decorative.
The acting – uniformly excellent. Small casts can sometimes make you wish to see another actor to break things up. With this ensemble you simply can’t get enough of them, baby.
Mitchell – Richard Knowles; it’s tough to play an actor playing an actor, but he pulls it off (apologies again) running the whole gamut of emotions through his relationship with Alex from anger, passion, denial, resistance, control and tenderness. His Tom Cruise smile and boyish enthusiasm is far from accidental.
Diane – Renee Sheridan; a slick bitch exuding glamour and insincerity. Her character is meant to be from New York although her accent is still stuck in the Deep South from her previous outing as Blanche DuBois. She is perfectly calculating and manipulative, never allowing feelings to get in the way of a good deal; exploiting the personal for the public attention, but never allowing the paparazzi to see the whole story.
Alex – Kip Chapman; I last saw him playing a totally different all-American role in The American Pilot and this proves his spectacular talent. His outré role-playing disguises his deep insecurity and when he falls for Mitchell the vulnerability is more raw and confronting than any amount of nudity or homosexual displays of affection (and there are plenty of those too).
Ellen – Sophie Hambleton; her portrayal of shallow, material and vacuous is superb. Although her anger at her betrayal is justified and well-acted, she knew what she was getting herself into. Her haircut may recall Katie Holmes but her righteous indignation recalls Diana, so-called Princess of Hearts.
These are some of the theatre stories of the week:
The second story has since been discredited, but what a great conspiracy theory while it ran! Among my fellow actors, there was talk of little else… Of course, that’s not true either but so what, since when did that matter?