Friday, March 26, 2010

Old-Fashioned Star



A play by Matthew Lombardo

Directed by Rob Ruggerio
Starring Valerie Harper, Brian Hitchison, Michael Mulheren

Performances began February 19, 2010
Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th Street

Valerie Harper is such a memorable Tallulah Bankhead in Looped that it scarcely matters that Matthew Lombardo’s play is flimsy stuff. It’s 1965, and in a Hollywood studio, editor Danny and sound recorder Steve await the arrival of Bankhead, starring in the movie Danny’s working on: Die! Die! My Darling!

Bankhead is supposed to come in, loop a single line of unintelligible dialogue and they can all call it a day. But not so fast: when she shows up—late, of course—she’s in full bulldozing mode, hyped up on liquor, cocaine, and her sense of self-entitlement as a longtime Hollywood star (and current has-been). There are no holds barred as she hurls insults, crudities, and curses, which cascade down on the heads of the poor men, with Danny bearing the brunt.

As long as Looped allows Tallulah to reign as a high-drama and low-comedy queen, it’s a laugh riot. Predating Joan Rivers and Don Rickles for all-purpose insults that sting and make one squirm, this Tallulah—at least as resurrected by Lombardo and Harper—is fiendishly funny. And Harper stalks the stage with the self-assurance of a veteran, tossing off the wittiest and the crudest lines with equal aplomb, her razor-sharp timing ensuring they land with the precision of a scud missile. That Harper gives what’s more an impersonation than a full-fledged recreation doesn’t mean she’s making any less of an impression.

As Bankhead’s foils, Michael Mulheren holds his own as Steve, while Brian Hitchison transforms Danny from put-upon stuffed shirt to endearing adversary, despite the playwright’s arbitrarily dropping dime store psychoanalysis onto his character, as Tallulah discerns his problems quite easily (must be the booze and drugs). The sudden weighty seriousness of the story (closet homosexuality, abandoned child, sham marriage) does the second act no favors, and Looped limps home to a rather timid conclusion.

Still, under Rob Ruggerio’s solid direction, Valerie Harper gives the kind of fearless star turn we need more of on Broadway.

originally posted on

No comments: