Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nice Doggie

My review of “The Little Dog Laughed” shows up in Style this week. As you can read, I liked it. My wife liked it a bunch too. The number of laugh-out-loud moments were almost too numerous to count.

And in case you were wondering, I don’t talk all nice about Bruce Miller in my review just because he says nice things about me on my blog. For one thing, I don’t work that way. For another, Bruce knows I don’t work that way and I think (hope) he respects me for it (my review was also written before his latest insightful and healing missive, just FYI).

To be honest, I went into the show with a vague concern that I might have to say not-so-nice things about Mr. Miller. Bruce has been directing for a long, long time and has more theater knowledge in his left big toe than I have in my entire brain. Over the years, he’s done a great job with a wide variety of material. But I realize now that I have a lingering assumption that his strength is in broad comedy. Maybe it’s because of all of those traveling kid’s shows that have to fit fun, songs, and a message into an abbreviated running time.

Whatever the case, I worried that something zippy and contemporary might somehow be too much for Bruce. I now realize why my assumption was off. Whereas someone like Rick St. Peter can take something like “Taming of the Shrew” and make it seem zippy and contemporary, I think Bruce’s strength – apparent in “Little Dog” but in other shows as well – is in grounding the comedy (however broad) in well-drawn, fully-realized characters. What Bruce has, I think, is the confidence to be simple and the experience to be specific. There is enough fireworks going on in the dialogue of “Little Dog;” no extraneous directorial flourishes are required.

Other great things about “Little Dog:” I was really considering starting the review with praise for the lighting design I was so impressed by it. Lynne Hartmann’s lighting is usually top-notch (though I remember noticing some weirdnesses with “Member of the Wedding”) and I often can’t even fit one line about it into my reviews. You could say that I was impressed by the lighting “tricks” in Little Dog – the flashbulbs and the beautifully rendered mandala – but sometimes it’s the attention-getting moments that make you realize the strength of the whole pallet.

One last thing (though I could mention several) is Laine Satterfield’s performance. She was awesome. In the scope of the plot, her character is really little more than a device that helps sew things up; I could imagine the play working without her character at all. But she digs into Ellen with abandon and makes her lovable in her somewhat shallow, sad, gold-digging, searching, and highly insightful way. Based on Satterfield’s performance, I could see a spin-off of “Little Dog” that focuses just on Ellen.

More to say but no time to say it! I’ve got about a million things to say about “Peter Pan” too and only two days until opening night. Yikes! That’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

PS: Interesting that several Hollywood-oriented scripts invoke canines, don't you think? Anyone remember "Four Dogs and a Bone" at the Firehouse many years ago? Damn, that was a good show. Jeff Clevenger, Stephanie Kelly, etc. -- awesome.

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