Last night we went to the Pasadena Playhouse to see their production of a new play by Matthew Lombardo called “Looped”. Just like Lombardo’s previous play, “Tea at Five” (which we saw at the playhouse in September 2005), the story is centered around an incident in the life of a famous actress, has another well-known actress in the lead role, and at times seems very shallowly written. But as with “Tea at Five”, we ultimately enjoyed the production.
“Looped” tells the story of eight hours in the life of Tallulah Bankhead, a famous actress who initially made a reputation on the stage, but then went to Hollywood and became better known for her excesses of all varieties. The story is based on an incident in 1965 where it took her eight hours to rerecord one line for the film “Die! Die! My Darling!”. It is also the story of the recording studio producer, Danny Miller, who has to deal with Tallulah. The setting basically provides time for Miller to draw out the story of Tallulah’s excesses, philosophy of life, and riffs thereupon (alas, seeming more to echo the information in the Wikipedia article — for example, that she came to Hollywood to fuck Gary Cooper — than something deeper). But it also provides time for the Tallulah character to draw out the story of the producer; and it is in that aspect that the character growth that is at the heart of “Looped” is revealed. Tallulah never changes or grows: she starts out as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain, and she ends as a pill-abusing alcoholic covering her pain (although we do have a better idea of the reason for that pain). However Miller is a different story. Miller starts out as a simple recording producer, married with a daughter, who is annoyed with Tallulah’s excesses. By the end, however, we learn that there is much more story behind Miller, and we see how he comes to realize what he really wants out of life.
As I noted above, it is the character arc that makes the play. The first act of the play left us unimpressed. It seemed to be soley with someone dealing with a drunk pill-popper, a bad actress who liked to throw off one-liners. For a few minutes I even thought of Foster Brooks. Although they were very funny one liners, the drama wasn’t drawing us in. But the second act made the play: the one-liners were less present, and served more to support the character arc of Danny Miller. This was one of those plays where the second act made the play. Stay for it.
The acting in this production is top-notch. Playing Tallulah Bankhead is Valerie Harperæ, coming across nothing like the characters we know her for from Television (Rhoda Morganstern, Valerie Hogan). She immerses herself in Bankhead, and has her down pat. You seriously think you are watching Bankhead. Harper has been receiving some well deserved accolades for the role.
[æ denotes members of Actors Equity ]
The producer, Danny Miller, is played by Chad Allenæ, who is remarkable in the role. In many ways, I think Allen’s performance is more remarkable than Harper’s. Harper had a characterture to draw upon, a well known figure. Allen had a blank slate, and he did a great job of filling it in, making the producer a character of depth and emotion, of both outward and inward frustration. He did great.
The last character in the production is one we only see in a haze. Michael Karl Orensteinæ plays Steve, the sound engineer in the booth. We only hear Steve’s voice during the production.
Turning to the technical side: The stage is dressed as a modernistic recording studio, with light wood art-deco paneling and a sound booth uptop, with a microphone and table center stage. There’s a piano off to stage left, some chairs to stage right. What is amazing about the stage is its transformation when Tallulah is talking about her experiences in “A Streetcar Named Desire”: the paneling reveals itself to actually be scrims — the lighting changes and the scrims become mostly transparent revealing the wrought-iron work of New Orleans. A very effective transformation.
The production was directed very effectively by Rob Ruggiero, whose direction adds to the character of Tallulah Bankhead and brings out the person inside Danny Miller. The scenic design was by Adrian W. Jones, with lighting design by Michael Gilliam. Sound design was by Michael Hooker. Costume design was by Alex Jaeger, with wig and hair design by Charles G. Lapointe. Dialect coaching (well done) by Joel Goldes. Production Stage Management was by Lea Chazin, assisted by Hethyr Verhoef.
“Looped” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until August 3, 2008.
So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Next up is “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 8/2 @ 2pm) [where we hope to meet youarebonfante, who is stage manager]. After tat is “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.
I close with this quote from Tallulah Bankhead: “If you really want to help the American theater, don’t be an actress, dahling. Be an audience.”