After I saw The Little Dog Laughed last week at Theatre in the Square (where the showbiz satire has been extended through May 11), I was thinking that you could call LaLa Cochranâs hilarious talent agent the âAri Goldâ role.
On HBOâs laddish comedy âEntourage,â super-agent Ari Gold emerges as the quintessential Hollywood wheeler-dealer: hyper-competitive, constantly blowing smoke and barking creative profanities into his omnipresent cell phone. Jeremy Piven plays the role to the hilt, but such sharks in suits are far from being original characters. Fast-talking, aggressive Hollywood agents and producers on the big and small screen go back nearly as far as the film industry itself. Ari Gold is just the most prominent and entertaining example in our current pop culture.
Piven has recently been cast as Bobby Gould, David Mametâs equivalent to Ari Gold, in the Rialto Broadway revival of Mametâs Hollywood play Speed-the-Plow. Piven would probably feast on Mamet's macho dialogue, but his "Entourage" association makes it sound almost like stunt casting, comparable to the actor's voice cameo as Lightning McQueenâs agent in Cars. ("Gold" and "Gould" are practically the same last name.) I haven't seen Speed-the-Plow, but so many other Hollywood plays have been locally produced, including The Little Dog Laughed, that I feel I may as well have.
Maurice Ralston memorably played two Ari Gold roles â movie producers who come across as Southern Californiaâs answer to Satan. About 10 years ago in Whole World Theatreâs Four Dogs and a Bone (for which Doubtâs playwright John Patrick Shanley clearly vented some of his Hollywood frustrations), Ralston portrayed a volcanic, over-the-top film executive with a boil on his buttocks allegedly âthe size of a Dungeness crab.â In Actorâs Expressâs The Dying Gaul in 2000, Ralston offered a more subtly sinister, nominally Buddhist producer who tempts a screenwriter into selling out his work and his sexual principles.
Most Ari Gold roles tend to be the fictionalized equivalents of bop âem dolls for frustrated playwrights to vent their frustrations. In 2005, the Alliance Theatreâs Moonlight & Magnolias revived a legendary ârealâ filmmaker, David O. Selznick, for a light-hearted footnote in the production of Gone With the Wind.
More recently, women have been filling the Ari Gold roles â perhaps playwrights find them to be corporate equivalents to larger-than-life âdivaâ characters. In Jewish Theatre of the Southâs superb Brooklyn Boy, Jennifer Levisonâs more soft-spoken film executive voices supportive words for the writer while still being icily mercenary. In Actorâs Expressâ Based on a Totally True Story, Kathleen Wattis offered a charming, atypically positive take on a film producer and conveyed an almost maternal protectiveness in a normally heartless industry.
As Diane, Cochran provides the engine of The Little Dog Laughed, as well as its primary selling point. She delivers earthy yet rhapsodic monologues about cinematic beauty, publicity strategies and the pressures of being a woman in a high-testosterone business. The play depicts her rising movie star client Mitchell (Chad Martin), whoâs staying in the closet to protect his career but becomes involved with a Manhattan rent-boy (Ben Reed) who claims that heâs straight and has a girlfriend (Kelly Cris).
The Little Dog Laughed playwright Douglas Carter Beane seems to want to avoid some of the clichÃ©s of Hollywood plays: rather than portray a writer as a long-suffering victim (the writers in Hollywood plays are more sinned against than sinning), Beane keeps the playwright character conspicuously off-stage. Beane clearly intends to find fresh perspectives on sexual identity, but revelations seem utterly predictable and the action turns into just another Hollywood Faustian bargain. Cochran has such wicked comedic timing and charisma that Diane blows the rest of the characters right off the stage. You've got to be careful with the Ari Gold roles, because they often end up with all the marbles.
(Photo by MJ Conboy)