"Looped" Loses Steam

By Roz Friedman

Valerie Harper comes out swinging as Tallulah Bankhead the over-the- top actress, celebrity and coarse exhibitionist whose husky voice and wild life style were so huge, many plays have been written about her. In 2000, Kathleen Turner and Tovah Feldshuh recreated her on stage in separate productions.  Now Matthew Lombardo has written a new play called LOOPED—which stars Valerie Harper, the beloved Rhoda from TV’S “The Mary Tyler Moore show.”  Rob Ruggiero, Hartford TheaterWorks senior artistic director, directs this well. However, this is a one-act piece that fizzles in the second act like a balloon losing air.

Ms. Harper in makeup and deep blue dress and a flowing mink coat—even though this is summertime- looks and sounds very much like Bankhead, who was born in Alabama to a prestigious Democrat family. The actress’s father was the Speaker of the House. She never got over the guilt of the fact that her mother died a few days after her birth. Here, we meet her in 1965, the year before she died from Emphysema, in a recording studio in Los Angeles where she is supposed to be looping a single line of recorded dialogue that must be dubbed into a film already shot. The session in real life took 8 hours to record and we live through that on stage over and over again through two acts.

Brian Hutchinson has the unhappy job of playing unhappy Danny, the sound editor left to take her through her paces. His grim demeanor as he watches her imbibe drugs and alcohol doesn’t help the play. And the story Danny tells in the second act about his life as a closeted gay man, is contrived, and stops the movement of the work dead in its tracks. Michael Mulheren is a fine actor wasted in the part of Steve, who manages the control board upstairs in the dark.

The set design by Adrian W. Jones and Ken Billington’s lighting are effective- particularly when we can see the outline of the set for Streetcar Named Desire projected behind the studio walls. It seems that Tennessee Williams wrote the part of Blanche Dubois for Tallulah-but she refused to do it- Later she went on only to camp it up terribly and be laughed off the stage.

Looped will not stand the test of time, but the first act is almost worth the price of admission. Profanity –not for children.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FINE ARTS PUBLIC RADIO


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