Valerie Harper in Looped
Valerie Harper is outstanding as Tallulah Bankhead in the new Broadway play Looped. I'm pleased to say that she is not the only good thing about it. Unfortunately, the play is not one of them. It's the performances of Ms. Harper and her two onstage cohorts, Brian Hutchinson and Michael Mulheren that make this mediocre play so enjoyable.
In 1965 a recording session took place for Tallulah Bankhead to loop one last line for her final film, "Die, Die, My Darling." She arrived at the studio drunk and it took eight hours to record one line. The film was in trouble with the studio and over budget.
Brian Hutchinson is Danny, the film's editor. He happens into a recording studio to pick up the reel with the single line that Ms. Bankhead was supposed to have already recorded. He's then told by Steve, the sound editor that the recording never happened because she still hadn't shown up yet and the director has already left for the airport. Enter Tallulah Bankhead, "Fuck Los Angeles. Hate it here. Always have. With the freeways leading into more freeways."
The script, by Matthew Lombardo crackles with jokes that are so old they have whiskers. I remember as a child hearing some of the same jokes from Wayland Flowers and Madame, the turban wearing puppet who easily could have been an homage to Bankhead. "I want you in the worst way, the worst way I can think of is standing up in a hammock."
She is still the sex symbol bad girl with a foul mouth. She takes a liking to Danny, this neat, never-did-a-thing-wrong squeaky clean guy. She most likely wants to corrupt him. Instead an almost motherly spirit comes out in her as he is confiding in her that though he is married he is having a relationship with a man on the side. It is obvious early on that Bankhead is on to him and it is her goal to get him to come out to her. This is largely where I have a problem with the script. For starters there is nothing in his demeanor or behavior that would have Bankhead come to this conclusion. This requires a rather large leap of faith.
Brian Hutchinson and Valerie Harper in Looped
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Confounded by every rude and tasteless line that comes out of Tallulah's mouth, Danny tries to keep pressing forward to get the final line recorded but continually is interrupted by Tallulah's chaotic segues in other directions. Mr. Hutchinson has developed a wonderful physicality to the role of Danny that betrays his deep seated anxiety; this takes the form of facial ticks.
Along the way we learn of Bankhead's upbringing and her voracious appetite for sex. In spite of this she also articulates her regret at not having been able to have children after having a radical hysterectomy due to a case of syphilis.
The set by Adrian W. Jones is attractive and inventive. He creates a wonderfully retro look to the recording studio. At one point Bankhead performs a scene from ...Streetcar... and as the lights dim we discover that the back wall of the recording studio is actually a scrim. Lighting comes up behind the wall to reveal the ornate cast-iron porch railings so closely associated with the old south. It is a nice effect.
Looped is finely directed by Rob Ruggiero who also directed the play in its first incarnation at the Pasadena Playhouse. While this play will not be winning a Pulitzer Prize, it does present a great opportunity for Ms. Harper to give an exceptional portrayal of one of the theatre's most interesting characters. Ms. Harper has the energy of a woman half her age and she's got gorgeous gams.
View full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.