Looped, the wisp of a play, currently on national tour, is grand fun when the zingers and bon mots fly fast and furiously from the salty mouth of Tallulah Bankhead, winningly portrayed by actress Stephanie Powers. The premise of Looped is quite simple. Bankhead needs to re-record one line of dialogue from her last movie—Die! Die! My Darling. Unfortunately, for sound editor, Steve, and film editor, Danny Miller, this looping process becomes a nightmare as they vainly attempt to cajole, bully, and plead with an uncooperative, slightly drunk, prescription pill addicted Bankhead. The actress, known for speaking her mind has a mouth that would make a sailor blush. Be forewarned—some in the crowd may be offended by the language as was the couple in front of my wife and I who left after intermission. However, Bankhead’s battles with Danny Miller, no matter how bawdy and off-color, provide the real fun in this shell of a show. The issue with playwright Matthew Lombardo’s script is maintaining interest and momentum with such a slender plot. During the first act, let’s call it round one, the two pugnacious protagonists thrust and parry, producing saucy entertainment. However, during round two the focus of the show changes as Bankhead, through prodding and inquisitiveness, takes on the role of caring and understanding psychotherapist to a battered Miller. We learn of his past and dark secrets. Bankhead becomes less obstinate and irascible and, therefore, less interesting as does the show itself. She does finally get around to looping the one line of dialogue, but by then Looped has become wearisome and vapid.
Stefanie Powers perfectly embodies Tallulah Bankhead toward the latter part of her star-crossed career. She is cantankerous, flamboyant, ill-mannered, yet highly vulnerable. Powers makes you feel the star’s outward turmoil and inner strength. You feel sympathy for the aged Bankhead as she goes through the motions of living her remaining life, a mere shadow of her former self. Brian Hutchinson recreates his role from the Broadway production of the show. As Danny Miller, he serves more as the foil for Powers’ Bankhead. He is combative and gives no ground to the venerable actress. His role, while obviously necessary, lacks depth for the audience to overly sympathize with his back story.
After a slow build-up, Director Rob Ruggiero keeps the action flowing at a good clip during the first act. He gives Powers the opportunity to command the stage, grand flourishes and all. The second act is more problematic and even a veteran director, like Ruggiero, can’t solve the problem of the anemic script.