BWW Review: Desert Rose's LOOPED is a Brilliant, Must-See Production

BWW Review: Desert Rose's LOOPED is a Brilliant, Must-See Production
Judith Chapman, as Tallulah Bankhead

Desert Rose Playhouse, the Coachella Valley's LGBTQ+ theatre, has mounted a must-see production of Matthew Lombardo's LOOPED. The script and brilliant acting and directing strongly complement each other to create an R-rated experience that is both hilarious and moving for theatregoers of all orientations and genders.

LOOPED originated in a true story that occurred in 1965. Tallulah Bankhead's last film, DIE, DIE, MY DARLING, required "looping" a single line of dialogue in the studio during post-production because the sound became garbled during the actual filming. Ms. Bankhead arrived late and drunk and required all day to re-record the line. Playwright Lombardo listened to the tape of her antics and conversations in the sound studio, and decided to create a play based on what he had heard.

LOOPED ran for only a month on Broadway in 2010, but it seems better-suited to the intimate space of a local theater, such as Desert Rose. Not that there is anything small about this production. LOOPED marks the return to Desert Rose of director Jim Strait, who, with his husband, Paul Taylor, founded the company. Mr. Strait, who is one of the funniest people I know, specializes in over-the-top comedy, which this script provides, and he certainly comes through with perfect pacing and hilarious stage business. Charismatic THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS soap opera star Judith Chapman, who knows how to play divas - she toured in VIVIEN, a one-woman show about Vivien Leigh - is perfectly cast as the outrageous, larger-than-life Tallulah Bankhead. From the moment Tallulah lurches onto the stage to the final curtain call, Ms. Chapman, a consummate professional, remains in character, even managing to make her eyes look glazed and unfocused as Tallulah keeps drinking. In the second act, after she has succeeded in getting the audience to hate Tallulah, Ms. Chapman allows her to show a human side; we see the pain that her decision to make a mockery of her own life has caused her, and the sympathy she is capable of feeling for someone else. At one point, real tears well up in Ms. Chapman's eyes as her character remembers something sad. Acting students are well-advised to see this performance as the gold standard to which they should aspire.

BWW Review: Desert Rose's LOOPED is a Brilliant, Must-See Production
Tallulah emotes as Danny (Mark Fearnow) gets more
and more worried about the slipping schedule.

Mark Fearnow, who recently came to the Coachella Valley after teaching acting at Penn State University and Hanover College, is perfect as Danny, the straight-laced target of Tallulah's rapier wit. He allows Danny's annoyance at Tallulah's antics to drip through otherwise mundane lines, of course, causing her to bait his character all the more. In Act II, as Tallulah coaxes Danny to tell her about his life, he allows his own pain to come to the fore; at this point, he goes from anonymous working stiff to a real person with hopes, dreams, and disappointments. My only complaint about Danny is that Dr. Fearnow is probably ten years or more older than the character he plays - I would have preferred to see him dye his gray hair or wear a wig to appear the age that the script implies. Miguel Arballo plays the third cast member, Steve, the sound engineer, who tries mightily to stay out of Tallulah's way and who is perfectly happy to sacrifice his colleague to both Tallulah and their tyrannical boss. The script doesn't give Steve much to do but respond to Danny in angry mono-syllables, but Mr. Arballo still manages to imbue Steve with humanity; his facial expressions are terrific.

The technical designs, as is usual at Desert Rose, are extraordinary. For those of us who recall the 1960s, the recording studio set (designed by Bruce Weber) will bring back memories. The two things that stand out in my mind are the glass ash tray on the coffee table and the colored dial phone, both symbols of a bygone era. Costume designers (Ruth Braun and Desert Rose artistic director Robbie Wayne) have provided a stunning, royal blue satin dress, perfect for the era, for Tallulah - exactly what I'd expect a diva to wear. They also put Danny in dark pants and a light sports jacket - correct as a summer outfit for a Los Angeles working man. I don't know whether Tallulah's fur-covered purse, which matches her wildly inappropriate fur coat, is considered part of the costuming or a prop (also designed by Robbie Wayne), but it is perfect to set up a filthy, hilarious sequence.

BWW Review: Desert Rose's LOOPED is a Brilliant, Must-See Production
Steve (Miguel Arballo), in the booth, tries to
ignore the antics below him in the studio.

Everything about this production is top-notch. The only people that I would urge to stay away are those offended by explicit sex jokes, which, by the way, are overwhelmingly heterosexual. Everyone else should be sure to buy tickets; LOOPED deserves to sell out.

The rest of the production staff consists of Robbie Wayne (producer), Jim Strait (sound design), Paul Taylor (assistant to the director), Phil Murphy (lighting design), Duke Core (stage manager and lights), and Miguel Arballo (sound).

LOOPED will run through February 10, 2019. Tickets can be ordered online at www.desertroseplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 760-202-3000. There is no service charge for Internet or phone orders. Performances are held at 8 PM Friday and Saturday evenings, and at 2 PM Sundays. Tickets are $37 for Friday and Saturday performances and $34 for Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees.

The Desert Rose Playhouse is located just north of Frank Sinatra Boulevard, near the Emperor Buffet, at 69-620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. The Box Office opens at 4 p.m. before evening performances and at noon on Sundays. A new bar in the lobby, operated by Streetbar, a Palms Springs watering hole, sells libations before the show and during intermission for the Friday and Saturday performances.

Desert Rose supports the local community, such as by having donated tickets to the Desert AIDS project. As a not-for-profit public benefit corporation, Desert Rose is required to raise a third of its annual budget from public support, as opposed to ticket sales. Donations are very welcome. Please mail checks to Desert Rose Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 2256, Cathedral City, CA 92235. To submit donations through Paypal, click the link located on the Desert Rose Web site at www.desertroseplayhouse.org/Sponsorship/.

The rest of Desert Rose's 2018-19 season consists of:

THE VIEW UPSTAIRS, by Max Vernon (March 8 - March 31, 2019). This new hit musical tells the true story of the famous New Orleans Upstairs Lounge.

PAGEANT!, by Albert Evans, Bill Russell, and Frank Kelly (April 19 - May 12, 2019). Who will reign as Miss Glamouresse? The audience will decide.

Photo Credit: Matthew McLean

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From This Author Audrey Liebross

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