A beautiful, hot mess!
Looped @ Westwego Cultural Center
review by Todd Perley
Ah, Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968). The diva of stage, radio, and screen. An amalgamation of Bette Davis, Oscar Wilde, Mae West, and Morticia Addams, with a healthy dose of Bitchy Drag Queen (which just sums up the previous attributes, honestly). And did Jennifer Saunders write a bit of her into Edwina Monsoon in the TV show 'Absolutely'?
Bisexual, promiscuous, ubiquitous drink in hand, a cigarette in her mouth, and white-ringed nostrils. She for whom Tennessee Williams wrote the character of Blanche Dubois. Wouldn’t you like to spend an evening with her?
Well, you’re in luck, thanks to this play, by Matthew Lombardo. As they bill it: “This three-person drama is based on a real event that took place in the summer of 1965, when an inebriated Tallulah Bankhead required a full day to redub – or loop – one line of dialogue … The recording session ends up lasting eight hours due to her drunken behavior.”
The campy mood is set before you even enter the theater. The lobby becomes an interactive playground. Sign your name to a star on the floor. Take a photo with Tallulah wearing borrowed mink and holding fake cigarettes and champagne. Don’t forget your complimentary packet of candy cigarettes. (Yes, they still make those!) Many theater-goers dress the part. I stood in the wine line with a man who had sewn dozens of dangling cigarettes to his blazer. (“It’s my smoking jacket.”)
Set in an L.A. recording studio, the three-hour-late Bankhead finally shows up to read her one line. Film editor Danny Miller’s nerves are quickly shattered as she fails, fails, and fails again. She’s more interested in prying into his life, revealing sides of her own…and drinking, smoking, snorting, and pill-popping, natch.
Eric Lincoln as Danny is believably (and justifiably) frustrated with the shenanigans. Leslie Castay delivers Tallulah’s barbs and quips with appropriately acerbic dryness. It would be easy to play this role as a campy diva stereotype, dah-ling, but Castay is never shallow.
Director Janet Shea wants us to know the real Tallulah. As sloppily aloof as she seems, her inquisitive humanity and self clarity is always at the foundation. She’s a mess, Danny’s a mess, and she recognizes this and demands to connect with him, much to his consternation as well as that of the equally-frustrated tech booth worker Steve (David L. Haydel, Jr.).
Act One is a fun-fueled bitchy romp, and Act Two, while still bitchy and quip-y, becomes legitimately moving. I confess to some casual weeping as Bankhead/Castay delivers a brilliant monologue as Blanche Dubois.
I signed up for the iconic Tallulah caricature, but her depth and fragility was lagniappe, without ever dragging the mood irretrievably into the land of morbid. As Bankhead/Castay says, “We all have our vices, dah-ling. Mine just all come out to play at once.” And you should come to this play. At once.
Looped runs through November 19th @ Westwego Cultural Center. More info and tickets here.
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