The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

U.S. civil rights veterans pass torch to younger generation

Filed under: Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 10:10 pm

By Lucy Komisar
RALEIGH, North Carolina, Inter Press Service (IPS), April 27, 2010

Omo Moses, John Doar, and Bob Moses. Photo Lucy Komisar.

Robert Moses, 75, a legendary leader and organiser in the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement, was huddled with a dozen people discussing plans for a campaign to make quality education a constitutional right. On one side was his son Omowale, 38. Next to Omo was John Doar, 89, head of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department in 1960-67 and prosecutor of the major civil rights cases of that era.

The age differences were noticeable at the conference they attended this month in Raleigh, North Carolina, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It was a moment for the “elders” – as high school and college students at the conference called them – to pass the torch to a new generation of activists.

Sign at Shaw commemorating anniversary of SNCC. Photo Lucy Komisar.

SNCC, or “snick”, as it was known, was founded on the campus of a black college, Shaw University in Raleigh, to coordinate the Southern student civil rights movement. A few months earlier, four black students had “sat-in” and demanded service at a lunch counter at a Greensboro, NC Woolworth’s department store that reserved stools for whites. The management refused.

On succeeding days, more students joined them. As word spread, other college students staged “sit-ins” around the South.

SNCC took the movement further, evolving from a coordinating committee to an office that sent “field secretaries” to most Southern states. By 1963, there were 181 young staff and volunteers who lived and worked with local leaders to register and educate black voters and wage economic campaigns to gain their rights.

The next year, 1,000 young people, mostly whites, came to Mississippi for a SNCC campaign to register voters and run 28 political “freedom schools”. Two of the whites and a Southern black youth were murdered by racists.

In 1964, SNCC organised a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the all-white state delegation to the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City. In 1965, it challenged the seating of Mississippi’s congressional delegation in Washington. It supported black candidates for Congress and local office; black elected officials in the southern states increased from 72 in 1965 to 388 in 1968.

SNCC actions led to a ban on segregated Democratic Party organisations and ultimately prompted Southern racists to quit and join the Republican Party. The awareness SNCC created played a role in Congressional passage of the anti-segregation Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Chuck McDew, a SNCC chair, and Julian Bond, activist and politician. Photo Lucy Komisar.

SNCC made foreign policy issues part of the black agenda. Staffer Julian Bond won election to the Georgia legislature in 1965, but the body refused to seat him because he endorsed SNCC’s criticism of the U.S. war in Vietnam. A year later, his admission was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court. He served for 20 years.

Bond told the conference that, “What began 50 years ago is not history. It was a part of a mighty movement that started many years ago and that continues to this day – ordinary women and men proving they can perform extraordinary tasks in the pursuit of freedom.”

That resonated with the young people. Abeni Nazer, 18, a freshman at the University of Baltimore, said, “I’ve never met Dr. [Martin Luther] King, I’ve never met Malcolm X [a Black Muslim leader assassinated in 1965]. But Bob Moses and a lot of people here, I actually get to meet them and I feel like, when you have first-hand experience and you’re sitting face to face with these people, it’s totally different than reading it in a book or seeing it on television. It inspires me more; it puts the passion back.”

Robert Parris Moses. Photo Lucy Komisar.

Robert Moses is a bridge to the modern movement. A former high school math teacher, in 1982, he started the Algebra Project, to develop methods to teach math to low income and minority students. That led to the Young People’s Project, headed by his son Omowale, which trains high school and college students to work with students on math and to promote reform of math education. They follow SNCC’s strategy.

Albert Sykes, 26, a Jackson, Mississippi YPP leader told IPS that SNCC’s lesson was “start local and think local.” He explained, “The initial sit-in was four guys sitting at a lunch counter. It was a single action but had a ripple effect. The message from the elders is to stay local and do small incremental steps, which for YPP is quality education as a constitutional right.”

Albert Sykes. Photo Lucy Komisar.

Later, addressing conference participants in Shaw’s gymnasium, he said, “We transition from Feb. 1, 1960 and the sit-in movement to the ‘stand up’ movement. Young people in Jackson, Mississippi have to stand up, young people from Chicago, Illinois, from Minnesota, Georgia, have to stand up…” And the young people stood up to applause from the “elders.”

He complained that, “Some of the challenges come from the torch not being properly passed between the SNCC generation and our parents and our parents’ generation not handing the work to us.”

Harry Belafonte speaking at SNCC conference. Photo Lucy Komisar.

Other SNCC leaders also seek to pass the torch. Ivanhoe Donaldson, who organised for SNCC in Mississippi and Selma, Alabama and Bernard Lafayette, who worked on a Selma voting rights campaign, joined singer and civil rights supporter Harry Belafonte in 2005 to found The Gathering for Justice.

Carmen Perez, 33, a worker for the group, said for her the challenge was “a criminal justice system that incarcerates children.”

Javier Maisonet, 25, who works in Chicago for YPP, said the sit-ins put everything in perspective. He explained that one SNCC activist said, “Once you come to terms with the worst thing that can happen to you, you can do whatever needs to be done.

Lucy Komisar attended the founding conference of SNCC in 1960. She was editor of the Mississippi Free Press, a civil rights newspaper in Jackson, Miss., in 1962-63.

Article on IPS site.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where was Obama on SNCC’s 50th anniversary?

Filed under: Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 10:44 am

By Lucy Komisar
April 19, 2010

Last week, I was at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, for the 50th anniversary conference of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which led the sit-in movement of the 1960s. I attended SNCC’s founding conference at Shaw in April 1960.

That meeting had been called in response to the February 1, 1960 protest in Greensboro, NC, when four black students sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter that reserved stools for whites,, demanded to be served and were refused.

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. addressed the nearly one thousand conference participants Saturday and told them, “There is a direct line from that lunch counter to the Oval Office.” I wondered if President Obama agreed.

Chuck McDew, former SNCC chairman, and Julian Bond, 20-year member of Georgia legislature, SNCC leaders present at founding meeting, photo Lucy Komisar.

The sit-in movement of the early 60s had spread throughout the South. SNCC turned a protest against Jim Crow public accommodations into a political challenge. Its dozens of organizers and hundreds of volunteers registered many thousands of voters in deep-South redoubts such as Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Activists were routinely jailed and beaten; some were murdered.

They changed the South and American politics. Through the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, SNCC began a campaign that ultimately ended “Dixiecrat” control of the national Democratic Party. New party rules banned convention delegations that excluded blacks.

SNCC also involved Northern activists and support groups in the movement. I was arrested in Elkton, Md, on a 1961 “Route 40 Freedom Ride” which attempted to desegregate restaurants along the main highway between New York and Washington. I went on to be editor of the pro-civil rights weekly Mississippi Free Press in Jackson, 1962-63.

But Holder, recognizing the sacrifices of SNCC that he said made it possible for him and President Obama to be where they are today, brought no message from the President. A member of the conference planning committee told me Obama had been invited. So he knew about it. She was perplexed at the lack of any White House communication. The President, who routinely sends greetings to citizens and business groups of all sorts, apparently didn’t find it important to salute the people who laid the groundwork for his election.

Monday, April 12, 2010

“Million Dollar Quartet” channels 50s country-rock greats

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 3:48 pm

By Lucy Komisar

“Million Dollar Quartet” is hot on music and slight on story, the latter a chance 1956 gathering of country and rock innovators Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at a Memphis recording studio. Fans will like the stars’ doubles’ performances of the songs that made them famous. And this jukebox musical jumps off the charts whenever Levi Kreis, who plays Jerry Lee Lewis, dominates the stage with his wild jazzy piano playing and furious rock lyrics.

Levi Kreis, Robert Britton Lyons, Eddie Clendening and Lance Guest, photo Joan Marcus.

The idea is that Sam Phillips, who created Sun Records and launched major country, rock and R&B talents of the 50s, has arranged a recording session for John Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons), whose last records haven’t done so well. Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening), who has become a big success in Hollywood and on TV, is in town and calls to say he’ll stop by. Phillips asks Johnny Cash (Lance Guest) to come over; he wants to sign him to another contract. Presley is 21, the others are in their mid-20s except Phillips who is 33. A fourth, Jerry Lee Lewis, 20, representing the young and hungry undiscovered talent the others had been, arrives to demand that Phillips take him on.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Marilyn Evans.

Phillips gets them to perform in solos and group jams and records it all. Later, he produces the record as the Million Dollar Quartet, the title inspired by a journalist’s comment. A newspaper photo was made of the event, showing Lewis, Perkins, Presley, Cash and Presley’s then girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

The story offers a vision of the cultural and economic origins of these country and rock singers – small town boys from the South, some from families of sharecroppers or with histories of prison. Needing the money, Phillips has sold Presley’s contract to RCA. Will the others stay with Sam or answer the lure of the big-time record companies? But that’s largely a frame on which to hang the songs, the performers’ greatest hits. They were not all on the famous recording.

Levi Kreis, Elizabeth Stanley, Eddie Clendening, Hunter Foster, Lance Guest, Robert Britton Lyons, photo Joan Marcus.

Kreis does a brilliant “Great Balls of Fire” and some virtuoso piano playing, even stretching down to the keys from a position lying on his back across the spinet’s top. Guest is excellent and very persuasive as the cool, mellow Cash. His “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Sixteen Tons” and “I Walk the Line” could have been sung by the master himself. Clendening, doing “Memories Are Made of This,” “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog,” lacks some of the spark and sizzle that Elvis had, as I recall him. And Lyons’ Perkins (“My Babe” and others) is a flat character, noisy and uninteresting. But I never heard Perkins, so that may be an accurate representation.

Hunter Foster is good as Sam Phillips, the small town impresario with big time stars. Elizabeth Stanley plays Dyanne, based on Marilyn Evans, a dancer who had gone out with Elvis when they both performed in Las Vegas and was visiting him in Memphis. Evans’ voice is heard on the recording. In the play, she is a singer, and does a nice job with “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.” The real Evans continued as a dancer, including 13 years as director of the Fresno Ballet.

I laughed when Phillips declares in frustration that maybe rock and roll won’t last. “Hell, you got Congress passin‘ laws ‘gainst it!” Well, rock lasted, and so did no-nothingism in Congress.

Million Dollar Quartet.” Book By Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux; directed by Eric Schaeffer. Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, New York City. 212-307-4100. Opened April 11, 2010.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Brook’s “Love is my sin” turns Shakespeare’s sonnets into drama of love, jealousy and loss

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:58 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Creating a richness in their arrangement that adds to the beauty of each poem, director Peter Brook has ordered 31 Shakespearean sonnets, dramatically recited by Natasha Parry and Michael Pennington, to create a striking theater piece. It elegantly expresses love as it consumes men and women in the highs and lows of their relationships and into their later years. The poems are grouped to praise love that lasts through time and to plumb the pain of separation; the torments of jealousy, self-deception, and guilt; and the sorrows of older age. That doesn’t quite make a play, but it sets new standards for poetry reading.

Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry, photo Pascal Victor.

The set is simple, some wood tables, chairs and stools on a Persian rug. Parry, who is Brook’s wife, wears black slacks and a long coat with swirls in the back. Pennington has a sweater over his black trousers. Franck Krawczyk sets off the poems with the 17th century music of Louis Couperin on accordion and keyboard.

Under Brook’s sharp but subtle direction, in which the drama enhances but never effaces the lines, the actors play to each other and against each other. They move close; they drift or march apart. They are sensitive and they are furious. They are anxious. Sometimes they are forgiving. Pennington seems to suffer more. Parry gets angrier.

There’s a sense of Shakespeare looking back. The first section, Devouring Time, reflects on the love and beauty that lasts even in the lover’s thoughts, which makes losses disappear. It compares the speaker to “Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” The lover knows that time will take his love away: “This thou perceiv’st which makes thy love more strong/ to love that well which though must leave ere long.”

Michael Pennington and Natasha Parry, lovers apart, photo Pasal Victor.

Separation brings conflicting emotions. There is pain felt by a lover who waits like a slave and a fool, regardless of what the beloved may be doing. Alternatively, there is joy at thinking of the loved one: “For thy sweet love rememb’red such wealth brings/ that then I scorn to change my state with Kings.” Or sorrow: “…thou away, the very birds are mute.” And on a journey, “My grief lies onward and my joy behind.” And “ thoughts (from far where I abide) intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee.” (Just compare that with “Wish you were here!”)

But then Jealousy arises, and with it protest, disillusion, self-deception. Parry disputes: “Canst thou, O cruel, say I love thee not/ when I against myself with thee partake?” Pennington is distraught.  But perhaps the object of love is unworthy: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright/who art as black as hell, as dark as night.” And “So shall I live, supposing thou art true,/like a deceived husband; so loves’ face / may still seem love to me, though altered new.” “Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.”

One might pretend: “Therefore I lie with her, and she with me, / and in our faults by lies we flattered be.” Or worry: ‘”For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,/ from me far off, with others all too near.”

Or ask forgiveness: “Alas ’tis true, I have gone here and there,” says Pennington on bended knee. It made him young, he admitted. Parry pushes him to the floor! But there is half regret: “Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight.” And besides, the other is just as guilty: “..those lips of thine, / that have profaned their scarlet ornaments,/ and sealed false bonds of love as oft as mine.” Finally, he persuades her not to hate: ” ‘I hate’ From hate away she threw,/ and saved my life, saying ‘not you’.” Parry moves from the fury of the first “I hate” to the softness of the last forgiveness.

And lastly comes Time Defied, about death. Their faces are drawn and pensive. One asks a lover to forget “If thinking on me then should make you woe.” But in another verse, the man wonders why she pines within but is “painting thy outwards wall so costly gay?” In the end love is “an ever-fixed mark/ that looks on tempests and is never shaken.” And, Shakespeare finishes that sonnet with an undeniable avowal: “If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

“Love is my sin.” Written by William Shakespeare; adapted & directed by Peter Brook, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (Paris).  Theatre for a New Audience at the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street, New York City. Opened April 1, 2010; closes April 17, 2010. 646-223-3010.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

T.S. Eliot’s “The Cocktail Party” gets powerful staging by Actors Company Theatre

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 1:16 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Cynthia Harris, Simon Jones, Lauren English, Mark Alhadeff and Jack Koenig, photo Carol Rosegg.

This is not the kind of black tie London cocktail party that Noel Coward was wont to attend. There may be champagne poured and secret infidelities going on, but the darkness that bubbles up out of those glasses reminds one of Albee or Pinter.

The Actors Company Theatre has mounted a striking production of T.S. Eliot’s 1950 play that one won’t soon forget. Cynthia Harris as Julia Shuttlethwaite is the kind of busy-body you’d like to lock up. Jack Koenig as the svelte barrister, Edward Chamberlayne, seems so (appropriately) empty that you feel there’s no there there.

Simon Jones and Cynthia Harris, photo Carol Rosegg.

His wife Lavinia (Erika Rolfsrud) appears to have imbued enough bile to poison the lot of them. Scott Alan Evans skillfully directs this verse play, whose cadences you never notice.

On the surface this is about men and women and their loves and breakups. You expect some shuffling of the couples. But Eliot has thrown into the pot a stranger who was not invited by the host. It is revealed much later that he is Henry Harcourt Riley (Simon Jones), a psychiatrist — “Sir” Henry, though we don’t know why, except that perhaps puts him above everyone else in station.

We learn a bit about the psychology of knowing people, that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger. Lavinia accuses Edward of having no sense of himself, of passivity. They start a blistering flight. She seems monstrous. Later he acknowledges that when he thought she’d left him, he felt he’d ceased to exist.

Erika Rolfsrud and Jack Koenig, photo Carol Rosegg.

The problem we are told is that he can’t love, and that she can’t be loved. They seem like a matched pair.

Celia Coplestone (Lauren English) is the oddest character. In her mid-20s, (English shows her as cool, with some charm), when her affair with Edward ends, she feels she’s always been alone, that everyone’s alone. She suffers loss, disillusion. She wants to be cured of loving. The choice Sir Henry enables her to take is peculiar and difficult to believe of someone of her character and class. It ends rather gruesomely, in an event in Africa that is supposed to be religious – she becomes a martyred saint — but to me just seems weird. Penance for adultery? And what about the guy, who we later see being charming at another cocktail party. This is definitely a period piece.

Two of the men also leave for far off places. Alexander MacColgie Gibbs (these names must resonate with the British), played by Mark Alhadeff, goes off to Africa for a reason that is never explained. Peter Quilpe (Jeremy Beck), secretly in love with Celia, becomes a Hollywood screenwriter.

Love seems to be something to put aside so one can get on with life, however much afield that leads. Or to direct one’s life so outside oneself that there is no longer romantic love that disillusions.

On the subject, many feel Eliot to have been monstrous in his own personal life. His first wife was a ballet dancer who has been described as temperamental, restless, prone to mood swings. With the doctors’ verdict of “hysteria,” typically affixed to unhappy women, Eliot committed her to mental institutions from 1930 till she died 17 years later.

He married his secretary but didn’t sleep with her, and some call him a closet gay. The secretary probably took orders better than the dancer. At any rate, having Eliot psychologically examine why some heterosexual relationships aren’t working is bizarre, to say the least. His preaching on morality seems equally inappropriate.

“The Cocktail Party.” Written by T.S. Eliot; directed by Scott Alan Evans. The Actors Company Theatre at the Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. Opened March 17, 2010; closes April 17, 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

“The Orphans’ Home Cycle” a gripping, elegant saga of a Texas family

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 5:22 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Horton Foote’s story of a young boy growing to manhood in rural Texas in the early decades of the last century is so gripping, and elegantly performed, that it’s hard to acknowledge that the mundane events of family interactions, marriage, divorce, illness and death in the extended Robideaux clan are in themselves, presented with great subtlety by Michael Wilson, understated and sometimes almost without great drama. Or else, they are the great dramas of every day.

In a grand work divided into three performances, each of three hour-long plays, beginning 1902 and with smart photographic backdrops, Foote has brilliantly etched the personal and economic details of Horace Robideaux’ life, beginning when he was 12 and his father, a locally prominent lawyer, died from drink. The work proceeds to his struggles as a youth rejected by his mother, a young man facing economic reversals and difficulties with women, and finally to the challenges of marriage and family life.

Hallie Foote, photo Gregory Costanzo.

Foote has said the plays are based on family stories and indeed the series is inspired by the life of his father, whose history mirrors that of Horace. The cast, headed by Bill Heck as the grown-up Robideaux, is superb. Hallie Foote, Horton’s daughter, does a dazzling job, starting with Grandma Robideaux and ending as Horace’s mother-in-law, her southern accent authentically dripping East Texas on the Gulf.

The central tragedy of life is etched when Horace’s mother (Virginia Kull) marries his step-father (Bryce Pinkham) who prefers his sister, the spoiled Lily Dale (Emily Robinson). They deprive the child Horace of school and family, leaving him in Harrison (modeled on Foote’s Wharton, TX) when they move to Houston. He is

dealt a loveless, hard-scrabble life.

Henry Hodges (as young Horace) and Gilbert Owuor, photo Gregory Costanzo.

The episode that stunned me the most takes place in the early days when Horace (Henry Hodges), destitute at 14,works in a plantation dry-goods store and witnesses the horror experienced by black chain gang prisoners, convicts a relative obtained from the state to replace slaves that once worked there. James De Marse is chilling as the nasty, drunken plantation owner Soll Gautier who stiffs Horace for his labor. There continues a theme that moves through all the plays – the hard-drinking of the friends and family that people the saga.

Jenny Dare Paulin and Bill Hecht, photo Gregory Costanzo.

Another theme is their small-mindedness and meanness, exemplified by Davenport (Devon Abner, 7 years after the first episode) and the selfishness of Horace’s sister Lily Dale (then Jenny Dare Paulin).

The dreariness is cut by Horace’s young manhood and courtship, though this very naïve young man has bad judgment in his choice of friends and an unfortunate lot in some relatives (gamblers and drinkers) topped off by ill luck with women, at least at the start. Heck, a protagonist in most of the play, carries off his role expertly, letting the audience feel his pain and admire his solidity and strong character.

A pastime even more popular than drinking in Foote’s small town Texas was gossiping. Neighbors and relatives end up, we hear, as “dope fiends,” in mental institutions, or unmarried and pregnant. Perhaps that’s behind the insistence of the dour, harsh, judgmental Henry Vaughn (DeMarse), that his daughters not have boyfriends. That of course leads to defiance.

Bill Hecht and Maggy Lacey, photo Gregory Costanzo.

Horace will finally get a good, warm wife, Elizabeth Vaughn (Maggie Lacey). But their largely insular world suffers the intrusion of the Great War and a deadly flu epidemic.

The funniest play in the lot is “Cousins,” a parody of the extensive extended families in which cousins are all called “cousin,” as a family honorific, except, as one points out, ‘We don’t  call a lot of our cousins “cousin,” and another queries, as if the listener were somehow forgetful, “Don’t you know everybody you’re kin to?” They drink and chat about who is cousin to whom. One remarks, “A family is a remarkable thing. You belong and then you don’t.”

Foote paints the strengths and weaknesses, the sensitivity and cruelty of his characters, with the admirable Horace a good man who stands out in a world peopled by the crude and the unfeeling. Parts of the story reminded me of an updated Charles Dickens.

The brown earth tones of the clothes (David C. Woolard) and settings (by Jeff Cowie and David M. Barber) emphasize the down-to-earth nitty-gritty of the world we are observing.

This is an extraordinary multi-faceted drama which deserves recognition in America’s theater canon. The production is a tribute to Foote, who died last year at 92.

The Orphans’ Home Cycle.” Written by Horton Foote; directed by Michael Wilson. Signature at Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-244-7529. Opened November 19, 2009; closes May 8, 2010.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Valerie Harper channels Tallulah Bankhead in brilliant performance in “Looped”

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 2:35 pm

Valerie Harper as Tallulah, photo Carol Rosegg.

By Lucy Komisar

Valerie Harper channels Tallulah Bankhead. Her acting is so on the mark, so mesmerizing, that you would swear that the 30s stage and screen actress had come back to life. Her wit biting and risqué; her intelligence sharp; her vulgarity in your face, her talent opulent make you wish you had lived in her time.

The device of Matthew Lombardo’s play is that she’s been called to an audio studio to record a bit of film dialogue that got mangled in the screen cut. That’s called doing a loop. But Talllulah seems a bit looped herself as she gives editor Danny Miller (Brian Hutchison) a frustrating bout of dealing with the grande dame. Director Rob Ruggiero deserves praise for turning a long moment into a fascinating two hours.

She is better at one-liners than recording the one line. Everything in New York is numbered, she declares. “You get lost in New York, you don’t deserve to be found.” And, “I introduced a friend of mine as Martini; her name was Olive.” She acknowledges that she is bisexual. “Buy me something, I’ll be sexual.”

In her gaunt face and clingy silk dress, and a trademark wide lip-sticked mouth that seems to be in a permanent grimace, Harper is brilliant as a bit-over-the-hill aging Southern woman who drinks too much and sleeps around too much for that era.

Brian Hutchison as Danny and Valerie Harper as Tallulah, photo Carol Rosegg.

Brian Hutchison as Danny and Valerie Harper as Tallulah, photo Carol Rosegg.

When Adrian W. Jones recording studio suddenly morphs to reveal the wrought iron balconies and shutters of New Orleans, she is Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar.” Ah, yes! And she played her.

I would have cut out the forced surprise secret past confessional by Danny, which is jarring and unnecessary and seems like a political statement by the playwright rather than part of the Bankhead story.

Looped.” Written by Matthew Lombardo; directed by Rob Ruggiero. Lyceum Theatre 149 West 45th Street, NYC. 212-239-6200. Opened March 14, 2010.

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