Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Also see Fred's review of Good News!
When Matthew Lombardo's play premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2008, Valerie Harper was the leading lady. The production moved to Broadway two years later. That was to be the case for the current run but Harper is now quite ill. Powers and Harper are good friends. (This, too: each had surgery for lung cancer performed by the same doctor.)
The show focuses upon one summer day in 1965 Los Angeles when Bankhead is due at a film studio to loop or dub one line of dialogue for the movie Die! Die! My Darling!. She is late, of course, when she finally arrives at the studio and both the film editor Danny (Brian Hutchison) and booth engineer Steve (Matthew Montelongo) are far from pleased. Powers was in that particular film with Bankhead and perhaps that accounts, in part, for her current spot-on performance.
Costumer William Ivey Long has Tallulah wearing a blue evening gown, with one shoulder exposed. She sheds a fur coat as she begins her expletive-ridden and rated assessment of (well) just about everything. More than prone to drugs, alcohol and, so one gathers, sex, she provokes seemingly dull Danny into verbal battle.
For the entire first act and into the second, Tallulah is unable to furnish the one line necessary to complete vocals for the film. This infuriates Danny and exasperates Steve, whose vocabulary is limited, for much of the time, to "Yeah."
Bankhead, however, is a constant commentator. Comedy carries much of the day and this play. She prefers bourbon but settles for Scotch, the only liquor in the studio. "I once gave a sip of Scotch to my dog. He had to lick his ass to get the taste out of his mouth." When she first appeared, Tallulah gave an opinion: "Fk Los Angeles. At the Bushnell, this was not fully audible on opening night.
Powers is probably best known for her five year stint on television's "Hart to Hart" in which she appeared opposite Robert Wagner. She has a multitude of stage and screen credits and is absolutely ideal for the current role. Her terrific timing and control of Bankhead's many phrases are most impressive.
Playwright Lombardo, who also penned High, which featured Kathleen Turner and Tea at Five, centering upon Katharine Hepburn, provides a script which is brisk, sharp, and oftentimes wildly funny. Rob Ruggiero directs and, as is his style, he allows actors to tell the story while coaxing simultaneously relaxed yet specific performance.
The first act is all about Tallulah Bankhead. She takes a break from drinking for a cocaine hit before beginning another rant. All of this makes it impossible for her to utter the one line of text necessary to complete the film. After intermission, Lombardo involves Danny far more significantly as he has a back story of his own which is revealed. Serious and emotive at times, the play returns to one or two line zingers. Danny, at one moment, moves Tallulah's pocketbook and her irritated retort is: "Touching a woman's purse is like touching a woman's vagina." Pause. "Of course, I can only fit so much in my purse."
Towards the conclusion, Bankhead recalls lines she knew from Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and the audience, transfixed by a superlative performance throughout Looped, continues in awe, to watch and listen.
Stefanie Powers blends knowledge of character with a facsimile of Bankhead's throaty, slurry intonation as she holds attention from the moment she appears on stage. Even inebriated, Bankhead was smart and articulate, and Powers fuses all of this together. Lombardo's script fuels an enviable performance.
Looped continues at Hartford's Bushnell Theatre through May 12th. For tickets, visit www.bushnell.org or call (860) 987-5900.
- Fred Sokol