Dahling Diva: 5 reasons to see ‘Looped’ at Loft Theatre

Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead and Jaryl Draper as Danny Miller in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead and Jaryl Draper as Danny Miller in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Marcy McGuigan shines as stage and screen legend Tallulah Bankhead

A breezy tale of bygone Hollywood delights and provokes as evidenced in the Human Race Theatre Company’s excellent local premiere of Matthew Lombardo’s witty 2010 comedy “Looped,” continuing through Aug. 22 at the Loft Theatre.

Based on a real event and set in the summer of 1965, “Looped” salutes the aura of husky-voiced, vulgar and bisexual star Tallulah Bankhead, whose stage and screen career fluctuated in the mid-20th century. Among historic highs were her acclaimed leading roles on Broadway in classics such as “The Little Foxes” and “The Skin of Our Teeth” and her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”

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When we meet Tallulah in the play, she’s completely washed-up, attempting to salvage what’s left of her career after continued dependence on booze, cigarettes and pills. Due to a technical malfunction, she’s been called into a Los Angeles recording studio to re-record – or loop – a single line from her final film “Die! Die! My Darling!” What is assumed to be a simple, quick take, overseen by a stressed film editor and a dedicated sound engineer, evolves into an engaging if thin look at the high cost of fame and the lasting impression a legend can have on a great admirer.

In addition to set designer Eric Moore’s stylish period recording studio and Jay Brunner’s expert sound design, here are five reasons to see this production, smoothly directed by Kevin Moore.

Caption
Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

GLAMOUR, BITE AND CONVICTION TO THE HILT

In a demanding portrayal relying heavily on physicality and mannerisms, Marcy McGuigan, last seen at the Loft in 2013′s “Lombardi,” outstandingly embodies Tallulah’s expressive, vain persona. Outlandishly over-the-top but never resorting to mere caricature, McGuigan, beautifully costumed by Cat Schmeal-Swope, exudes glamour, bite and conviction to the hilt. In her capable hands, Tallulah rises as a powerful if loopy woman full of demands and consistently on the attack in spite of her declining talent.

Lombardo unfortunately doesn’t allow for a fuller backstory (for instance, he devotes more time to her feud with Tennessee Wiliams rather than exploring her notorious sexuality), but there is enough intrigue in his idea of Tallulah to suggest she had what it took to be more than what she became. In fact, McGuigan’s fabulous delivery of Blanche Du Bois’ dialogue from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a key scene late in Act 2 in which the depths of Tallulah’s acting skills are laid bare, is absolutely thrilling.

A VULNERABLE CONFESSION THAT TOUCHES THE HEART

Also in Act 2, charming Jaryl Draper, terrifically portraying young film editor Danny Miller, excels in a prime moment of genuine vulnerability. Coaxed by Tallulah to open up about himself and his family, Danny reveals a secret from his past and the life-altering chain of events that followed. Draper handles Danny’s touching monologue with heartfelt ease, creating a refreshing respite from the comical zingers that pepper the play.

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A MESSAGE OF RESILIENCE, CONNECTION AND HOPE

Tallulah and Danny constantly bicker, trading insults as sound engineer Steve (a casual, laidback Scott Stoney) sits in his perch, but their rocky relationship nonetheless attempts to illuminate the importance of resilience, connection and hope. Even though Tallulah experienced ups and downs and Danny’s journey is not without heartbreak, a glimmer of friendship and uplift remains. “There’s always going to be pain in life,” Tallulah says. “But suffering? That’s optional.”

A PLAYWRIGHT’S EMBRACE OF STRONG WOMEN

Lombardo’s other works include “Tea at Five,” a Katharine Hepburn bio-play, and “High,” a story of a nun trying to help a teenage drug addict which had its regional premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in 2010 starring Kathleen Turner. “Looped” stands as another testament to his passion for strong female-driven projects. “People often ask me why my leading characters are mostly written for ‘women of a certain age’ – as if to imply I should be writing more roles for younger men,” Lombardo told Broadway.com in 2010. “But considering Hollywood throws an actress her funeral when she turns 40 (whether she is actually dead or not) and the majority of new Broadway plays this season are vehicles for leading males – I think I’m justified in defending the evident need of more stage roles for mature women. Now granted, I’m mama’s boy from way back when. Being born the last Italian son in a family of five with a domineering mother and three strong-willed sisters predisposes me to appreciate (if not fear) the strong female temperament… My philosophy has always been that if I create great characters for women then I will attract great women to play my characters.”

THE RETURN OF LIVE, IN-PERSON PERFORMANCE

“This production would have been the finale to our Women of Influence season,” said the aforementioned Moore, Human Race artistic director and founding member, in a release. “But it may excel even better as our return to the live theatre experience that our audience has been craving.” The sheer intimacy of the Loft space, no matter where you are seated, is certainly a huge asset as the organization returns to in-person performance. The troupe is also going paperless (patrons can access the program online or via QR code upon entering the theatre) and requiring masks for extra precaution.

Contact this contributing writer at rflorence2@gmail.com.

Caption
Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead and Jaryl Draper as Danny Miller in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead and Jaryl Draper as Danny Miller in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED
Caption
Marcy McGuigan as Tallulah Bankhead and Jaryl Draper as Danny Miller in the Human Race Theatre Company's production of "Looped." CONTRIBUTED

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS

HOW TO GO

What: “Looped”

Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton

When: Through Aug 22; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays

Cost: $17-$53

Tickets: Visit humanracetheatre.org or call Dayton Live box office at 937-228-3630

FYI: The play, which runs two hours including intermission, contains adult language; In addition, The Neon will screen “Die! Die! My Darling!” on Monday, Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit neonmovies.com.

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