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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Looped

Also see Susan's review of A Sleeping Country

Looped
Valerie Harper
Audiences who know Valerie Harper only from her role as Rhoda Morgenstern in the iconic 1970s sitcoms "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda" will be delightfully surprised by Looped, Arena Stage's current production at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC. Harper erases all memories of the wisecracking New Yorker in her engrossing performance as Tallulah Bankhead, the notorious actress of the mid-20th century.

Playwright Matthew Lombardo based Looped on a true incident. In 1965, Tallulah had completed work on what was to be her last film, a horror film titled Die! Die! My Darling, but had to come back to the sound studio to re-record, or "loop," one unintelligible line of dialogue. In the play as in life, a process that should take a few minutes stretches into an hours-long confrontation with film editor Danny Miller (Jay Goede), who is overseeing the session.

Bankhead came from a prominent political family in Alabama and had a notable career on Broadway, but her greater fame came from her eccentric and bawdy offstage exploits. At the time of the play, she was already in failing health; she died in 1968.

After barreling into the studio in her fur coat (it's August in Los Angeles), Tallulah starts talking a mile a minute about everything except the line she's supposed to say. She recounts her childhood ("I had an imaginary friend. She didn't like me very much") and early career as she lists around the room; she also drops a lot of names, mostly people with whom she had affairs, including one famous husband and wife. Her comments may be calculatedly outrageous, but they still hit the mark, and Harper relishes them.

Danny, in contrast, is a circumspect man who says little about himself, although the audience is likely to guess at least one of his secrets early on. He has the thankless duty of trying to keep Tallulah focused and away from alcohol, cocaine and her other diversions, but Goede does at least get the chance to unbend in the second act. Michael Karl Orenstein amuses in a small, largely offstage role.

Director Rob Ruggiero keeps the action percolating briskly. Adrian W. Jones' set design seems plain and utilitarian, but it reveals hidden depths at certain moments.

Arena Stage
Looped May 29th June 28th
By Matthew Lombardo
Tallulah Bankhead: Valerie Harper
Danny Miller: Jay Goede
Steve: Michael Karl Orenstein
Directed by Ron Ruggiero
Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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