Friday, May 10, 2013

Theater Review: Looped -- The Bushnell

Stefanie Powers. Photo: Ian Ibbetson
It’s a Recording Session from Hell When the Star Gets Looped
By Lauren Yarger
A single line of dialogue is the catalyst for Matthew Lombardo’s multi-layered and laugh-filled play Looped making a tour stop this week at The Bushnell in Hartford.

It seems the sound is garbled on one important line of dialogue in the 1965 film “Die, Die My Darling,” so star Tallulah Bankhead (Stefanie Powers), who has returned to films after a 12-year hiatus, is summoned to re-record (or “loop”) the line in sync with the film. Sounds uncomplicated, but when the larger-than-life actress known for her outrageous language and behavior gets a little looped herself on alcohol and cocaine, the recording session is anything but simple for film’s editor Danny (Brian Hutchison, who played the role on Broadway) and sound engineer Steve (Matthew Montelongo).

Throwing off her fur coat and strutting about in a dark-blue evening dress (William Ivey Long, design), Tallulah makes repeated attempts to record the line “And so Patricia, as I was telling you, that deluded rector has, in literal effect, closed the church to me.”

Danny’s frustration grows with each unsuccessful attempt. Steve keeps his distance up in the second-story booth, offering only a few words while a growing battle of words and will ensues between Tallulah and Danny. (Adrian W. Jones designs the set; Michael Gilliam designs the lighting to include the look of the film being shown).

At one point Steve leaves to get another film reel and the conversation turns personal. Tallulah intuitively senses that Danny’s angst about the recording session really is a manifestation of a deeper frustration in his personal life. He hides behind his work, she tells him.

He counters with an accusation that Tallulah’s outrageous behavior is a cover for inability to deal with reality. Her reality, it turns out, is a bit harder to deal with than he might have imagined. Dark secrets are shared and the two form a bond of tentative friendship.

It’s funny and poignant, as directed by Rob Ruggiero, with complexities for the stage that keep that “And so Patricia” line from sounding repetitive. Montelongo manages to turn a few one-word responses into a developed character. Powers simply becomes Tallulah Bankhead. The perky jet-setting, mystery-solving character from the TV series Hart to Hart is nowhere to be found.

There are some drawbacks, however. The intimate show is ill-placed in the cavernous Mortensen Hall (which had a small house on opening night) and the sound (Michael Hooker, design) has an echo quality, as though the voices are muffled in a large space.

As it turns out, this tour is poignant in real life as well as on stage. The recording session is based on a true incident. “Die, Die My Darling” turned out to be Tallulah’s last film, and the part of “Patricia” was played by none other than Stefanie Powers. In addition, Powers stepped into the role of Tallulah for Valerie Harper, who had starred on Broadway, but who had to drop out of the tour when she was diagnosed with cancer. (The tour had been scheduled to launch here earlier this year, but with the cast change, the Hartford run was rescheduled to this week).

Looped runs through Sunday at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances:
Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $35-$60: (860) 987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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