BWW Reviews: LOOPED is Fast, Complex and Utterly Satisfying
Bravo to Ensemble Theatre, director Glen Jordan, and the talented cast of Matthew Lombardo's Looped for creating a truly fantastic experience in theatre. Looped may be a dark comedy, but it certainly delivered consistent laughs. It utilized a range of humor from subtle to ribald to bring focus to the most private, anguishing of struggles: the inner-conflict between the authentic self and the socially accepted persona that we all, characters and audience members alike, present to the public. The true commentary in Looped is about the manifestation of that inner conflict.
On the surface, the narrative center is Tallulah Bankhead, an aging, alcoholic actress who's too loaded to record one line of dialogue to replace an inaudible line from her latest (and last) movie; but the layers of dissatisfaction in each character regarding the situation is deep, and Looped is a play about the pervasive, unavoidable dishonesty of the human character, and the desperate desire for control. Tallulah Bankhead, known as a crass, comedic oddball of her time, does in fact consistently fail to dub her line; though whether this ineffectuality is due to her inebriation, a sheer lack of motivation, or simply for the joy of torturing Danny (Jonathan Levenson), the editor unfortunate enough to be charged with her recording session, is somewhat disputable.
Tallulah Bankhead, played by Diane Louise Salinger as an almost uncomfortably convincing addict, chases one substance with another to maintain her safe distance from reality. Salinger plays Bankhead on the razor's edge between a hardened party-girl past her prime and a woman of exceptional (though begrudging) sensitivity. Bankhead brings the trope of the sad clown to new heights as the queen of the cynic jesters, the self-aware, proud, hot mess who's smug and impossible and disgusted with life; yet simultaneously, she's a highly empathetic, albeit unapologetic, oracle of wisdom. Tallulah sees a kindred spirit in Danny, a man who similarly struggles to find harmony between his private and public personas. Bankhead, who offers regrets but no repents for her lifestyle, including her inability to focus (or give a damn) long enough to record one line of dialogue, runs Danny's ability to control his neatly constructed professional presence to a ragged point. Levenson's naive-yet-jaded Danny seamlessly morphs his ineffective passive aggression to raw emotionality when he finally admits that the repression of his authentic self is, in itself, not a death sentence-only a life sentence of already being dead. Though Danny finds the path toward something that resembles empowerment, the fact remains that in a world of certain expectation, authenticity of character is not always an ideal means to an end.
Salinger represents a Bankhead who is more deeply complex than the boozy floozy she's made out to be in the public eye. She represents the various faces of Bankhead: Tallulah, a show-biz gal from Alabama; Tallulah Bankhead, loose-and-sloppy celebrity disaster; and most impressive and poignant-Tallulah Bankhead, a talented performer trapped in the binds of her crass public persona. The moments in which Bankhead becomes Blanche Dubois, a role she insists was written for her, are some of the most powerful. It is in these honest moments when the cage bars of Tallulah's persona fall away. Only the suffering and fraught optimism of a woman in crisis, whether Bankhead or Dubois, is present, and the root of Bankhead's conflict is apparent: she wants to give more, and is capable of honest, wrenching performance; but the audience wants less, and she realizes the necessity of giving the audience what they want. Looped's Bankhead is one of the most fascinating, complex characters of Ensemble's season.
Looped delivers exceptional dramatic performances in a show that presents a balance of reality, sadness, and the joyous ridiculousness of life. The moments of progress are felt, even if it's apparent that they may never last beyond the walls of the recording studio. Without the fanfare of theatrical triumph, Danny and Tallulah transcend from despondency and boredom, respectively, to temporary contentment, having found the company of someone with whom they can be honest. In Looped, the characters are loud and tenacious, and the conclusion is soft and relatable-the perfect combination of entertainment, expression, and representation of the frustrating balancing act between our private and public personas.
July 10-July 27