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.
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.