Susan Granger on “Looped” (Broadway’s Lyceum Theater: 2009-2010 season)

By Susan Granger

Do you remember Tallulah Bankhead? Does that name mean anything to you? Apparently not – because the comedy about her called “Looped” is closing on April 11th
    The appropriately-named “Looped” describes a real incident that took place one long and difficult day at a Los Angeles recording studio in which the boozed/coked-up Bankhead struggled to re-record – a.k.a. loop – one garbled line of dialogue for what turned out to be her final film, the 1965 horror camp clunker, “Die! Die! My Darling!” Legend has it that the session lasted eight hours. Fortunately, the play doesn’t.

    It’s a star-vehicle for Valerie Harper, who endeared herself as feisty, wise-cracking Rhoda Morgenstern in the long-running TV series. And formidable Ms. Harper acquits herself admirably, making a flamboyant entrance wearing sunglasses and a fur coat (despite it being summer in L.A.), bleating, “Fuck Los Angeles!” in Tallulah’s trademark gravelly, Southern-accented voice with her exaggerated mannerisms. William Ivey Long’s slinky gown, Charles LaPointe’s wig, Adrian W. Jones’s set design,  Ken Billington’s lighting add to the bawdy, convincing caricature but not many theater-goers remember the eccentric, perpetually inebriated Ms. Bankhead who enjoyed only a brief film careers and whose last stage appearance was more than a half-century ago. So sympathy goes to Danny (Brian Hutchison), the uptight studio rep given the thankless task of overseeing this session, and Steve (Michael Mulheren), the sardonic soundman.

    Hartford, Connecticut, playwright Matthew Lombardo and director Rob Ruggiero made their Broadway debuts with “Looped,” which made its debut at the Pasadena Playhouse in Southern California and moved on to the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.  Their contributions are admirable, even though the one-note comic shtick wears thin pretty quickly and even her reminiscences about playing Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” bisexual liaison with Joan Crawford and bedding Gary Cooper grow tedious. Matthew Lombardo’s next play is “High,” which will have its world premiere with Kathleen Turner at Hartford’s TheaterWorks in July.

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