Douglas Carter Beane: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

With "The Little Dog Laughed," Douglas Carter Beane got his play about a closeted gay celebrity, the hustler he falls in love with, and the actor's domineering chatterbox of an agent on Broadway. The show explores the fascination we all have with the sexuality of celebrities, and the pains people will go through to make sure stars are seen as heterosexual by the majority of the ticket-buying public.

Beane is best known for writing, "Too Wong Foo, Thanks for everything, Julie Newmar," which had Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo in drag back in the 90s. No matter how successful he is with "Little Dog Laughed" or "As Bees In Honey Drown," To Wong Foo will always serve as his calling card for many people. In a few short months, Beane's book for a Broadway restaging of the Olivia Newton John's camp classic "Xanadu" will also hit the stage.

Beane recently chatted with me about Little Dog's closing on Broadway, fatherhood, Xanadu, gay porn, actors' bad taste, Perez Hilton, and celebrity closets.

When I found out we were going to be doing this, I went online to check things out, and we're in the final few days now of "The Little Dog Laughed" on Broadway.

It's going to open in San Francisco, though. We're getting really close to signing a deal, so it will be in San Francisco, L.A., and probably Chicago also, in the next couple of months. So, that will be great.

With the Broadway cast?

That is in discussions. If not with the Broadway cast, it will be with some other leads too.

Since I'm in San Francisco now, I don't always keep up with what is opening when on Broadway. When I'm going, I get schooled fast, but when I first heard about this show online, it was on a message board with a "Johnny Galecki's naked" thread.

Well, there you go.

So, that was my introduction. (laughs)

You're a class act all the way! (laughs)

I don't know if I should be revealing some of these things. And I guess we're both from eastern Pennsylvania. I grew up in Wilkes-Barre.

Oh, wow. I was born in Wilkes-Barre. What hospital were you born in?

Mercy.

Oh, Mercy.

Were you General?

Yeah, I was born in General. And I have a place now, I inherited a farm outside of Tunkhannock at Lake Carey. We go there in the summer.

And I have really good friends down in Reading, which is right next to where you lived in Wyomissing.

Oh, great. Yeah, I moved down to Wyomissing when I was young and grew up there. My grandparents lived in Forty Fort and Tunkhannock.

All very well known places to me.

And have you been following the case of Cobra Video?

I have. I was actually surprised, because usually my family will tell me when interesting things occur there, but they skipped over that one. A mean, gay porn in Dallas?

Who knew it was such a hot spot?

I grew up thinking I was alone, and it's a gay porn exporting community.

I know, it's hilarious. The gay porn industry of northeastern Pennsylvania.

See, I was premature in abandoning the area. It's totally up and coming. So, I'm moving to New York in a couple of months, and one of the things I'm curious to get more insight into is the lifecycle of a play. When I go there now, it's done, and usually on Broadway. Not even off-Broadway. It's arrived and I'm just catching up at that point. And I always hear about the read-throughs and workshops, so I'm looking forward to seeing some of that.

Well, you have to be invited to some of the stages, because they're usually in-house with the theater companies. This one was initially a ten-minute play, which Julie White did with an actor named Josh Hamilton, and it was part of the Tribeca Theater Festival. It was the "He Meaning Him" section of the play. And then I wrote it as a full-length play and it was done at Second Stage, an Off-Broadway theater company. It was part of their season, they do four shows a year. It was a big success, and we couldn't find a theater, because all the Broadway theaters were booked... so next fall, we opened up on Broadway, and closing the run this weekend.

I'm writing a novel, which is more egocentric and me, me, me. But with a play, it's naturally collaborative. How does that evolve? Is it all on the page? Or do you bring Diane to life, but then when you get someone amazing like Julie, does the text get changed at all to address the actors?

You adjust. I mean, occasionally you rewrite entire scenes. This show, more than in any other plays, I've rewritten. It was a lot of restructuring, rewriting, and between Off-Broadway and Broadway there were two scenes that I cut, and I wrote a whole new scene. Mostly with the characters of Ellen and Alex. And originally, the Diane character was much colder. She was much meaner and funnier, but she was colder. She was also Jewish and from Long Island, and then when Julie did the ten-minute version, and I thought she's going it... then she can be really warm and that's interesting. And she's not from Long Island or Jewish, she's Southern, so that brings in her Southern warmth and charm, and it's funnier when she's mean and bitchy, because she's just so warm about it. I thought that was a really interesting combination. So, there were minor adjustments. Like her monologue about a salad was originally about a sandwich, like that type of level. It wasn't major changes.

I'm sure you read the Variety story (spawned by Little Dog's closing), "Are Gays Abandoning Broadway for TV?"

I don't buy that, because ... well, I don't know. Is Little Dog closing because it was gay? Julianne Moore is in a straight play and that's closing three weeks early on its limited engagement. I think plays are just having a tough time on Broadway right now. And I think there is assimilation into society, that people don't see something just because it's gay. Gay people don't need to see something because it's gay.

And also, the next generation that's coming, I see, are sort of losing their gay sensibility or whatever. That gay humor is just sort of evolving into general culture. That's all part of it, but I don't think the show closing is indicative of that. I think it's indicative of it's just really hard for a play to survive on Broadway right now. I don't think the fact that it has boys kissing has anything to do with it. Especially comedy, comedies are very tough. The general feeling, in that article there was a quote, and many people said to me, 'If I want to see a comedy, I'll see a movie.' People don't want to go to the theater to laugh. They want to go and be tortured. (laughs)

And are you normally one to... and this is as butch as anything reference will get on here... but do you do the whole Monday morning quarterbacking of your plays? Or once you put it out there, it finds its own path and you're onto the next thing?

Well, I am onto the next thing. I've got a show opening. It goes into rehearsals in a month. It's a staged musical version of Xanadu that's opening on Broadway in May or June. And that's pretty fast coming at us, so I am onto the next thing, but I know there will be a film of 'Little Dog.' That deal's about ready to be signed. I know San Francisco, L.A., and potentially Chicago will have productions. It got on Broadway. It sold OK. It didn't sell well enough. I don't see any other play that was selling better, that I can be jealous and bitter about.

So, it is what it is, and I've got a play coming up for next fall, a charming comedy about a bisexual couple. So, I'm not going to shy away from things and start telling entirely heterosexual family tales. And I'm interested in the conversation that it forced people to have about a lot of gay issues. By virtue of it being on Broadway, there was a lot more conversation about gay hate speech and how permissible it is, and how a part of it out culture is, and it became a big conversation about coming out of the closet.

I know it feels so old hat, but then if it's old hat, why is it so prevalent that movie stars are still so in the closet? That was a great conversation for everybody to have, and a lot of people were having it in the press because of the show. That was nice. I like that part of it.