Sunday, March 14, 2010
Tallulah Bankhead is the center of Matthew Lombardo's play about a recording session to correct one line from Ms. Bankhead's final movie as it goes through its final editing stage in 1965.
At this late stage in her life (Ms. Bankhead died in 1968), she has ruined her career with drugs, alcohol and sex. Her film has all signs of being a flop and the creative team has all but abandoned the project. Left to handle the recording session is the film editor Danny (Brian Hutchison). Tallulah (Valerie Harper) shows up several hours late and already drunk. What follows is two acts of cat and mouse as Tallulah chases Danny's secrets down and drags them out. Along the way are a multitude of one-liners and quips, some of which are pretty funny, but eventually they get very predictable.
As Tallulah, Ms. Harper achieves a respectable impersonation, but doesn't seem to have the material to really reveal anything about her that we didn't already know. She swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, yet still sees her only value in her sexuality, which she foists like a weapon.
Mr. Hutchison suffers under his poorly written role, having to play straight man setting up the endless bon mots for Ms. Harper. The back story Mr. Lombardo has created for Steve is particularly contrived, with a couple of revelations telegraphed early on. As Steve, the sound engineer, Michael Mulheren floats through with little to do other than set up a few of the jokes along the way.
Mr. Lombardo based this play on the tape from the actual recording session, some 45 minutes' worth. He seems to have reached a little too far in stretching the piece out into two full acts. The flashback of Tallulah's failed and only performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Florida takes up a good bit of time to poor effect. Sadly, he reverts Tallulah to no more than a wannabe Mame Dennis as she wanders about the pieces of Steve's life she has tossed to the floor. The only line missing as she attempts to pull him back together is "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."
Director Rob Ruggiero keeps things moving, but can't get the performances to rise much above the two-dimensional writing. There are some laughs to be found, but the piece is not really ready for Broadway.