The Tinseltown Crier

The Tinseltown Crier Julie White is a high-powered mistress of spin in Douglas Carter Beane's razor-sharp Hollywood farce, The Little Dog Laughed.

Julie White in The Little Dog Laughed
Julie White in The Little Dog Laughed Photo by Carol Rosegg

*****

They start peeling the tinsel back in the opening sentences of The Little Dog Laughed, which bow(wow)ed at the Cort Theatre. Right off, you're alerted to how fast the magic fades in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." It's something you've always known, but not until Douglas Carter Beane found the words and Julie White hammers them to the wall do you realize how far you've fallen — from Audrey Hepburn (in Givenchy and pearls, eating a Danish in front of Tiffany's by dawn's early light, bathed in Mancini's "Moon River") to Mickey Rooney (in buck teeth and bizarre Asian disguise as her upstairs neighbor, going into a cartoony over-the-top rampage). Kee-rash!

"When I first saw 'Breakfast at Tiffany's,'" recalls White carefully, as if examining an old war wound, "I thought, 'What in the hell is he doing? This is atrocious. And why did they hire him for it?'" Beane only used Rooney's Asian mangling of Miss Golightly ("Missy Goritry"), but White added a Rooneyism of her brain-burned liking ("I must plotest!"): "I have a friend who has a golf course, and we say it to each other. When you hit a bad shot, we go, 'Missy Goritry, I must plotest!' It's the most racist, horrible, insanely awful thing."

During this sprightly hop, skip and lunge through La-La Land, other facts and fantasies of Hollywood life are dispensed by White in monologues — stark, raving rants, really, that not only move the story along but often upstage it. She is Diane - the Hollywood huntress, a manic manipulator of the first rank (read: high-powered agent) — and she dominates this whole ball of wax, dribbling up and down the court as she sees fit. If she has something to say to the audience, she doesn't think twice about yanking down the fourth wall and addressing it directly. The other characters don't stand a chance.

Her chief client is Mitchell (Tom Everett Scott), a rising young screen hunk "who suffers from a slight recurring case of homosexuality." He plans to tippytoe out of the closet by filming a gay-themed Broadway hit and, in New York for research, falls in love with a gay hustler, Alex (Johnny Galecki). The feeling is quite mutual, too, even though — the plot also thickens — Alex has impregnated his girlfriend-on-the-side, Ellen (Ari Graynor). Enter Diane, nostrils flared, spitting bullets, to make "adjustments" and arrange their lives like deck chairs, creating the illusion of a G-rated (for Good Housekeeping) happy ending.

"I think of her as The Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch joined at the hip," trills White about Diane. "Variety always calls agents ten-percenters. They're sorta servants, but they're servants in the Molière sense — like Toinette in The Imaginary Invalid or Dorine in Tartuffe — the servant who's wiser than her master and controls and fixes his life the way she wants it to be fixed. I love my agents. They're a bunch of sweethearts and kind and principled — but I have so many actors come backstage and say to me, 'Oh, you're doing so-and-so,' and they'll name names. And I am like, 'Really? There's somebody out there who's this rapacious?' I tried to pull Diane more out of a theatrical tradition than fake a mannerism or something."

Tearing through this piece like a — well, like a White tornado — last season at Second Stage earned her an Obie Award, plus shots at awards from the Drama League, the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle. This year, a Tony nomination looks likely — and, with a little rule-bending, a Theatre World Award for her Broadway debut (although she insists on counting the time she replaced the multi-roled Anne Lange in Wendy Wasserstein's Pulitzer Prize–winning The Heidi Chronicles). Another Pulitzer Prize play, Donald Margulies's Dinner With Friends, about the death of a marriage and its aftereffects on best friends, returned White to New York theatre after a decade of film and TV work on the West Coast. She was the odd wife out, emotionally battered and weepy most of the play — then, midway through the last act, she shows up in a flashback, sunny-faced and hopeful, to meet her husband-to-be, and you're the weepy one.

Wearing both theatrical masks simultaneously is a specialty of White's. She expired of brain cancer but with wit in Steven Dietz's Fiction, and she paraded a funny/sad assortment of Bad Dates (some of whom she laid out there for Theresa Rebeck to adapt).

There are telltale signs her star is rising — like when she auditioned for the "Alfie" film. She met her husband-to-be, actor Christopher Conner, afterward on the subway platform. "He said, 'How'd it go?' I said, 'Oh, honey, they said I was a marvelous actress. That's the kiss of death. I'm sure I didn't get that part.' And this lady turned around and said, 'But you are a marvelous actress.' It was such a New York moment. She'd seen me in something. Suddenly, I didn't need that role. It was completely worth it to have somebody do that."