The two reasons why someone might want to see the Broadway play Looped are eclipsed by the one reason Looped will exasperate anyone drawn to Looped in the first place: When you’ve got Valerie Harper (reason No. 1) playing Tallulah Bankhead (reason No. 2) as she loops a line of movie dialogue in a Hollywood recording studio one summer’s day in 1965, who cares about the melodramatic in-the-closet troubles of the dweeby fictional film editor giving her sound cues?
Nobody, that’s who. Matthew Lombardo’s tortured, campy bio-drama re-enacts a let’s-assume-it’s-true anecdote about an incident in life of the late actress. Bankhead (1902-1968) was a marvel of mid-20th-century American personality invention: Despite her considerable acting talent (you can watch her best best movie work in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 Lifeboat), she was even more famous for her self-promotional stories about her adventures in sex, drugs, and alcohol. And Harper barrels gaily into the role, outfoxing any drag queen who might have coveted the part by keeping in touch with the soul of the real Tallulah.
But, oh, that tired Boys in the Band framing device! As the uptight studio employee with the unenviable task of wrangling the notoriously unreliable, boozed-up Bankhead to drawl out exactly one line from a bad script, Brian Hutchison huffs, grimaces, goes red in the face, flaps his jaw, doubles over in frustration, and eventually brings forth stagey sobs to reveal the agonies of a love that dare not speak its name. That’s a lot of acting!
In the end, Harper’s Bankhead gets to demonstrate her soft heart and her Auntie Mame wisdom, as well as to fire off a few more quips. (Her advice: Live it up, dahling!) Are we supposed to conclude that the unhappy gay guy (a big Bankhead admirer, he tells her) and the lonely, drugged-up, slurring woman are cut from the same cloth? In the case of Looped, we must be talking garish polyester. C-
(Tickets: Telecharge.com and 800-545-2559)