Review by Tulis McCall
This is sort of the Disney version of Tallulah Bankhead. And as such it is not bad at all. As Tallulah, Valerie Harper is allowed to say f--- several times over. She drinks and snorts and even smokes a bit. What she is not allowed to do is, well, BE Tallulah. The one who was usually looped by noon, chain-smoked all day, burning herself and setting fire to most everything else, and when she wanted something from a producer would receive his mignons wearing only lipstick. When they flinched, she won.
The creators of this show want you to like not only Valerie Harper but Tallulah Bankhead as well. Harper is a given, seeing as how most of us were weaned on her self deprecating – and who wouldn't have been if in the same lineup as tall, thin and perfect Mary (Tyler Moore) Richards – character Rhoda Morgenstern back in the Pleistocene Age. She was everything most of us wanted to be: funny, great looking, and on television. We were like ducklings and she imprinted herself onto us.
This is why most people will go see Looped. That's okay because somewhere in that crowd of television babies will be a few who have never been to the theatre before, and once they see this show they will be hooked. That's because it's an okay script, Valerie Harper is credible, and the Lyceum is a gorgeous little theatre.
Liking Bankhead, however, is another deal all together. The premise of the play is a looping session where Bankhead must re-record a line (her last as it turns out) for Die, Die My Darling, a film that was also to be her last. The soundman has quit the film and left the editor Danny (Brian Hutchison), and the engineer Steve (Michael Mulheren), to do this last bit of housekeeping. What ensues is something out of Abbot and Costello. Bankhead hems and haws. She demands and pouts. She flubs and fauns. She is, in short, a brat of enormous proportion. Very funny, but a brat all the same. All of this has the desired effect on Danny who is worn down to the point of murdering Bankhead. At this point it is she who turns the tables on him and through an application of tough love gets him to reveal the sad details of his life, after which she nearly takes him in her arms with and delivers a "do this one for the Gipper" speech. It is all very contrived and all very predictable.
Contrived and predictable are not words with which I imagine Bankhead was familiar, unless she was speaking of someone else.
Harper is masterful in this role, and does just about the finest job I have ever seen playing a woman drunk enough to let it show but not so snockered that she passes out. There are enough one-liners, most of which are infamous, to fill the entire first act and half of the second. Harper makes them work by keeping it all very, very fresh. She disappears into this character so smoothly that it is easy to forget who it was you came to see and instead revel at who it is you are discovering. Hutchison does well as the straight man until he loses his composure over his tawdry little secret. Mulheren keeps a reality check running throughout the evening that we all come to depend on. Lombardo does well to keep the obligatory history to a minimum (Bankhead was the daughter of a Congressman and the granddaughter of a Senator and was Christened on the day of her mother's wake), but tosses the baby out with the bathwater when he has Bankhead re-create her Blanche Dubois as she really wished she had played it back at the Coconut Grove.
In the end Looped is a fantasy that doesn't come close to reality. But that is what fantasies are supposed to do I guess. Most of the audience won't know and probably won't care, so the Tallulah myth will grow another set of tales and tap dance off into the sunset.
That's life in the thee-Ater.
"Ms. Harper camps and vamps with determined proficiency, injecting plenty of life if not much verisimilitude into Mr. Lombardo’s cruel but enjoyably catty cliché."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Whisper-thin but enjoyable comedy."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Clunky, loopy "Looped"
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
Elysa Gardner for USA Today
"A small play that offers some big laughs, a gargantuan performance and little else."
Roma Torre for NY`
"Madcap comedy with its fair share of obscenely amusing lines.
John Simon for Bloomberg
"Pretty thin soup."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Has the same relationship to drama that People magazine has to 'Hamlet.'"
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"All of this comic shtick starts to wear thin pretty quickly."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
"The legendary star is reduced to playing Good Witch/Bad Bitch."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...