CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
The Little Dog Laughed
An Interview with Chad Allen
By Tony Schillaci and Don Church
On his career, his ambitions and his upcoming play "The Little Dog Laughed"
By Tony Schillaci and Don Church
"What's your hunch?" we asked in unison as Chad Allen bounced into the Theater Works
conference room. The 33-rear-old actor had agreed to an informal lunchtime interview with
Metroline while in rehearsals for his upcoming play, "The Little Dog Laughed."
As Allen took a chair, he backed right out of it. "Give me a minute," he smiled, and in a flash he
returned with a crisp red apple.
"No lunch today. Just a straight six-hour reading, and this interview is part of the day," said Allen.
At that, director Rob Ruggiero appeared in the doorway. After exchanging greetings, Ruggiero
placed his hands on Chad's shoulders. The obvious rapport between director and actor was
"You've got about 45 minutes, and then I need Chad back to work," said Ruggiero, who, along with
Allen, had a big Cheshire cat grin on his face.
After Ruggiero left we asked Chad what it was like working with the director.
"So far, it's been really good. We're just doing readings right now, but the play has a gay theme,
so it's comfortable to work openly as a gay man in a gay play with a gay director," explained
Allen. "Before I came out, as an actor I had no reference to gay people in the theater or TV. If they
were gay they just didn't let it be known ñ or at least I didn't know," said Allen
Theater Works' newest addition, Jacques Lamarre, Director of Marketing and Public Relations,
played a part in getting Allen to Hartford.
"Jacques saw me a few years ago at [the] Westport [Country Playhouse] in Temporary Help. He
remembered me when the casting for this play was being discussed and they called me," said
Allen. "When they sent me the play and I read it I thought, 'yeah, I've got to do this,'" said Allen.
Since Allen's Connecticut experience had only included Greenwich and Westport he wasn't
certain what Hartford would bring. New England came with a shocking surprise to the actor.
"I got off the plane in one degree weather - do humans actually survive in one degree air
temperature? and I immediately wanted to be home in California with my partner and my dog,"
"I realized that Hartford was a real city with a small town feel, kind of like Seattle and I got over the
temperature shock... the urban reality of Hartford was a surprise," said Allen.
Chad Allen, whose family name is actually Lazzari, has been acting on stage since he was about
five in musical shows like Oliver! and The Music Man. When he was eight he got the role of
Tommy, the autistic boy in the 1982- 1988 TV series St. Elsewhere.
Not many 8-years-olds would know how to portray an autistic kid. But Allen's hands-on experience
and vivid imagination helped him nail the role.
"Once they decided I looked right for the part I was exposed to autism by meeting real autistic
kids and studying them," explains Allen. "But I also had a vivid imagination where I could go and
lose myself. I played in my mind. I could sit and play soldiers and cars and tanks and battles, all
in my mind."
As Allen describes it, his imagination was his "first narcotic." He was protected, he says, by his
imagination. His mother credits his artistic nature for helping him master certain roles. "My mother
always said that artistic kids are stuck in their own world much like autistic kids are," said Allen.
Allen's imaginary world allowed him to play Tommy Westphall so realistically that many fans truly
believed him to be autistic. Fittingly, Chad appeared alone in the last scene in the final episode of
The transition from child actor to adult star in show business is rarely successful, but Chad
attributes his success to his years playing Matthew Cooper on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, an
experience that allowed him to work through the transition and gain acceptance from the audience
as an adult actor.
"During those years I grew into an adult with the audience watching. There was lots going on in
my life, but I had to concentrate on the work, and that helped the transition to be easier," said
While he was working on Dr. Quinn, Allen became the center of a scandal when the tabloids outed
him. In 2001, he came out publicly in The Advocate.
Since his public outing Allen has gone on to star in the popular detective series, The Donald
Strachey Mysteries, a project of HERE! Television, a gay television network. The series is filmed
in Vancouver, with two new episodes ready for release in the spring and two in the works.
Donald Strachey, played by Allen, is an openly gay private investigator in a loving gay relationship,
which to Allen makes the role.
"His [Donald's] relationship is the best part of the character, I love that relationship," said Allen.
Chad is a triple threat in the business. Having successfully tackled theater, film and television,
Allen will put on his producer's hat for the nationwide, soon-to-be-released film "Save Me," starring
Chad, Robert Gant (Queer as Folk) and Judith Light (Ugly Betty).
A provocative film about a young man in an "ex-gay" ministry, "Save Me" has already won the top
award at the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and was an entry at Sundance. Due to his
commitment to Theater Works, Allen was not at Sundance but his production company
Mythgarden and "Save Me" co-stars were present.
One must wonder what could make a California boy leave the sunshine for Hartford in January.
With his easy-on-the-eyes and sexy smile Allen simply says, "Because I'm an actor .... ~1 love
the theater," said Allen.
Chad thrives on live theater. Unlike the movies and television, theater is where an actor connects
to the audience in the most frightening, exciting, and immediate way.
"Theater keeps my soul intact," Allen confessed intensely. "Most of the parts that I play are
characters with inhibitions. I have to find a way to cover my own inhibitions-theater helps me to do
As for sharing his words of wisdom to young, hopeful actors, Allen had some obvious suggestions
of his own.
"If you want to be an actor-then act. Work ii} community or regional theater, anything you can do
to act. There are lots of ways for people to show themselves off, to get themselves into the public
eye, to be celebrities. But to be an actor you need to act," Allen said.
Allen is impressed with Connecticut's stages, citing the numerous regional theaters for an actor to
"You need to work at acting and
it needs to be a passion," Allen said. "Sometimes I think, 'well I'll just enjoy the house and the dog
and my partner and I'll retire and teach oceanography and just do a play now and then' but then
when I read another good script or play that excites me I know .. .I've just got t~ do this. That's
what acting is," said Allen.
In addition to acting Chad finds time to do charitable work with his AIDS/ LifeCycle ride fundraiser
and his honorary board member status on the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Being on a bicycle
for so many hours during the year would explain Allen's stamina and fine physique.
Chad's charisma was infectious, but since time was ticking and Ruggiero was expecting his star
back in rehearsal, there was one more secret confession he was more than happy to share. We
wanted to know what Allen really wanted to do on stage. Without hesitation, he leaned in
"You want to know my secret dream?," Allen teased. "Now I am giving you a scoop. I haven't told
this to any other reporters. I would love to do a musical again. It would take some extra training,
voice, dance, but I know I can do it." Allen beamed.
Metroline readers heard it first! Then, like a young gazelle, Chad smiled and bounced out of the
room. We can't wait to see him in "The Little Dog Laughed." Who knows, maybe in the not so
distant future, we'll get to see him in "The Little Dog Laughed The Musical."
This article first appeared in Metroline.