Darlings, no matter what you think of the thinly padded plot, the lack of character development, and that extra chap up in the sound booth, the new docu-comedy, “Looped” written by Matthew Lombardo, based on an incident in Tallulah Bankhead’s life in Hollywood circa 1965 – near the end of her somewhat illustrious and infamous career where she has to re-record a line of convoluted dialogue for the movie “Die! Die! Darling!” – the indomitable, feisty and brilliant Valerie Harper gives a comic and touching performance of epic proportions doing justice to that dame named Tallulah.
After all darlings that’s what you are paying to see. Valerie Harper. And boy does she deliver the goods. It’s the summer of 1965 and Tallulah, suffering from emphysema, has decided to cure herself with booze, cigarettes and cocaine not particularly in that order as she prepares to “loop” the line of dialogue that under normal conditions would have her tongue twisting within her mouth and not for the usual sexual reasons.
The director of the film has fled, leaving Danny the editor (a straight as an arrow guy with a secret, Brian Hutchison) to deal with the tornado called Tallulah that storms into the recording studio on a hot summer afternoon wearing her dark glasses, sapphire blue satin evening dress and full length mink coat (William Ivey Long) demanding a drink even before the session begins and then proceeding to crack one-liners straight from her Tommy-gun of a mouth and flubbing and procrastinating until Danny is ready to strangle her – which of course he can’t.
She recounts her huge appetite for sex with both sexes – telling tales about her trysts with Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford that would make the Pope blush but at the Lyceum Theatre where Ms. Harper is holding court as Tallulah they are merely hysterical. Cocktail napkins with her many ribald and witty remarks should be sold in the lobby.
Whether staggering around the stage, snorting cocaine, answering a call from her annoying sister Eugenia with her whiskey distilled voice, missing cue after cue or reliving her failed attempt at performing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire (a play written for her expressly by Tennessee Williams which she declined – her reason is top Tallulah which I will not give away here) in Coconut Grove Florida where she camped it up to please her many fans Valerie Harper is reason enough to see “Looped”. She’s a hoot and a half. Director, Rob Ruggiero does a terrific job of reining her in so that she is a character and not a caricature.
However, the two men in her onstage life are equally resourceful and give worthy performances. As Steve, the sound man – Michael Mulheren – does the most with the least. Brian Hutchinson is an ideal straight man to get Tallulah’s story out while he silently deals with his own demons enabling Tallulah to act as a sort of comforting shrink in Act II which puts the focus more on him but not for long.
Miss Bankhead boldly suggests that men either want to F***her or be her. Darlings, I foresee many regional productions ahead for “Looped” perhaps starring a man or two stepping into Tallulah’s shaky heels. www.loopedonbroadway.com Photo: Carol Rosegg