Stagenotes: January 2006

THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED

The Little Dog Laughed is a new comedy by playwright Douglas Carter Beane (As Bees in Honey Drown), directed by Scott Ellis (Twelve Angry Men), about a male Hollywood movie star who may or may not be gay -- still a taboo out there.

"I play an agent/manager/aspiring producing partner to a young Tom Hanksian good-guy movie actor, right before he breaks out to become a big, bankable star," explains charming cast-member, Julie White, "and my goal is to make that happen; only my boy suffers from a slight, recurring case of homosexuality. It's a love story that I need to thwart."

The cast of four in this rollicking two-acter includes another couple, "an adorable, young club kid/male prostitute and his Holly Golightly girlfriend," according to White, who puts forth the crux of the action: "Can I make it all work out to make everybody happy?" Apparently, the fashions are fabulous and there's some brief boy nudity. Quoting the playwright, White adds, "If the boys are naked, and the girls are fabulously dressed, you know it's a Douglas Carter Beame play."

Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St., (212) 246-4422. Previews Dec. 13, opens Jan. 10. Tues., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats. Wed. & Sat., 2 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m. $42-$65.

LENNY AND LOU

The excellent 29th St. Rep is best known for staging hard-edged dramas, with plots centered around rough themes like a trailer-park murder schemes. Their latest, Lenny and Lou, is no less gritty, but it's a full-out, demented comedy. Written by Coney Islander Ian Cohen, the play revolves around a repressed New York Jewish family, and the sibling rivalry between two grown brothers vying for their manipulative mother's love.

Cohen explains that he began writing the piece as if he was creating "exaggerated, stupid" versions of him and his younger brother, and was inspired by the guilt that went into caring for their elderly mother. "But then, while writing it," he says, "I started to go crazy and took these characters to the extreme. I made the mother insanely obsessed with sex, and in doing that, everything changed."

The character of Lenny is a selfish woman-chaser, "a low down, egotistical con man," who is married to Julie, "a Mafia princess who uses him," while younger brother Lou is "a sexually repressed accountant." Everything goes haywire one night, and Cohen promises, "There's one raunchy, madcap, insane moment after another." A fifth character is Sabrina, the health-care attendant, about whom Cohen notes, "She is the one normal person in the play, so at least the audience has someone they can identify with."

29th St. Rep, 212 W. 29th St., (212) 868-4444. Jan. 19-Feb. 19. Thurs.-Mon., 8 p.m. $19.

GONER

Goner is a "medical comedy" by the bright and cagey Brian Parks, whose 2000 Americana Absurdum was a smash hit at both the New York and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. John Clancy, who has sharply staged Parks's perceptive satires for the past decade, will direct.

This one begins with an attempted presidential assassination set in Washington D.C. After being shot in the head, the President is rushed to a hospital, which, Clancy says, " is run by tremendously incompetent and disinterested doctors." Indeed, one doctor is more concerned with marketing his "Chemo-Therapy Barbie" doll, whose hair falls out, and who parrots phrases like, "Why me, God?"

For various reasons, the doctors delay the surgery; the F.B.I busts in, searching for the conspiracy. The president here is named "Waterford Novi," and Clancy assures us that he's not based on either George Bush or Bill Clinton. "The parody spotlights doctors who have enormous God complexes and present-day intelligence-gathering, all in a very comical light" says Clancy, adding, "It's a parallel, perverse, profane world, that's familiar to ours."

The Kraine Theater, 85 E. 4th St., (212) 868-4444. Jan. 5-28. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m. $15.

APARMENT 3-A

We've always considered Jeff Daniels to be a versatile and likeable movie actor (from The Purple Rose of Cairo and Dumb and Dumber to his current turn in The Squid and the Whale), but who knew he was also an accomplished playwright? Armed with a downtown theater background at the Circle Rep, he went on to start his own playhouse in Missouri, and has written and produced nine plays there. His latest, and his first to be produced in New York, is Apartment 3-A, a romantic comedy directed by Valentina Fritti.

At the outset, the main character, Anne Wilson, a local TV producer, finds nothing but trouble: After catching her boyfriend having sex with someone else, she suffers a meltdown during a televised fund-raiser. Her luck begins to change when she moves into a new apartment. She finds herself befriended by a charming neighbor and actively pursued by a male co-worker at the TV station. The two-act play revolves around Anne's back-and-forths between her two suitors.

Explains director Fritti, "Daniels' ability in this play is to weave together the way these people deal with each other with the way they deal with the world they live in -- that's what I find rare and extraordinary. The fact is, we are all going through personal disappointments, and the news every day is 'the world is falling apart', but Daniels' message in the play is 'you cannot give up.'"

ArcLight Theater, 152 W. 71st St., (212) 352-0255. Jan. 20-Feb. 11. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. & Mon., 7 p.m. $15.

ABACUS BLACK STRIKES NOW!: THE RAMPANT JUSTICE OF ABACUS BLACK

One of downtown's most original and exciting theater troupes is the grandly-named National Theater of the United States of America. The core group of actors/creators (four men and two women) is back with a vengeance in Abacus Black Strikes NOW!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black. After their three earlier crowd-pleasing spectacles, Garvey & Superpant$, Placebo Sunrise, and What's That on My HEAD!?!, the question now is, "what can be done for 'shock and awe'?"

"We're trying to create that epic feeling on a shoestring budget, like those old medicine shows that would pull into town, open the side of their truck and there'd be a set inside, and they'd put on a show," says co-founder Yehuda Duenas. "We're trying to create the feeling that there's nothing in the theater when the audience arrives, and then we will build everything before their eyes."

The story revolves around Abacus Black, "a crusader who has lived for 600 years, and these people who found him in the desert and created a religion around him," says Duenas, "He speaks of this 'Lost City of Gold,' and they follow him. The premise is that he's taking them there, but in reality, they're all lost." According to Duenas, "a lot of the esthetic is horror movie style." Expect, among other things, sword fights, zombie attacks and other horrific details. "We're hoping to make the show a bone-chilling horror extravaganza," says Duenas.

P.S. 122, 150 First Ave., (212) 352-3101. Jan. 19-Feb. 12. Wed.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; mats. Sat. & Sun., 4:30 p.m. $10, $15 & $20.

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