Looped (Evolution Theatre Company – Columbus, OH)


What’s it about?

It’s 1965, and stage and screen star Tallulah Bankhead has seen better days. Suffering the ill-effects of a lifetime of boozing and doping, she is called in to re-record (or “loop”) one line for what would be her final film, Die! Die! My Darling! Based on a true event, Ms. Bankhead makes sure to put the sound engineer and film editor through the ringer before they get what they want out of her, playing up to their expectations of what a quarrelsome and demanding woman she can be. Looped enjoyed a brief run on Broadway in the spring of 2010, garnering Valerie Harper a Tony Award nomination as the beleaguered Tallulah Bankhead.

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Vicky Welsh Bragg (Tallulah Bankhead) and Jon Osbeck (Danny Miller)

Is it worth seeing?

Looped is the kind of play where the concept is much better than its execution. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing a comedic piece about a loud-mouthed lush, a star of both stage and screen, showing off her bad behavior? There are plenty of zingers to be had in Matthew Lombardo’s script, but at nearly two hours with an intermission (placed at a particularly contrived moment within the play), there doesn’t seem to be enough there to justify that much of an investment. However, Looped is that rare play that improves greatly in its second half, even if it gets rather maudlin and embarrassingly overwrought dealing with a discussion of homosexuality in the era. Mixing comedy with drama is tricky, but luckily the moments where the balance is completely off are brief and don’t sink the show. This is far from a great work, but, with the right crowd and performers, it’s more good than bad.

Vicky Welsh Bragg makes a fine Tallulah Bankhead, sounding a great deal like the actress, speaking in a low register that must be a challenge. Ms. Bragg is engaging if less biting that one might expect playing a drug-addicted alcoholic, but she is consistently interesting to watch and embodies the proper spirit to make her part work. Jon Osbeck as Danny Miller, the put-upon film editor struggling to corral Ms. Bankhead, performs as beyond irritated from the get-go, not allowing much room to grow all that much more frustrated with Ms. Bankhead’s shenanigans without yelling expletives that I doubt any studio employee would use towards a star, even a drunken one. Part of the problem is in the writing, but Mr. Osbeck is to blame for his entirely false crying scene near the end of the second act. It often feels like Mr. Osbeck thinks that he is part of a duet when it is quite clear that Ms. Bragg and her character is the star here.

Photo: Jerri Shafer – Jon Osbeck (Danny Miller) and Vicky Welsh Bragg (Tallulah Bankhead)

Technically, the show is quite impressive, with a detailed black, white, and gray set by Jeffrey Gress complete with a boom mike that looks right out of that era. Nitz Brown’s lighting is detailed down to the ever-so-slight reflection of the film being projected (which we don’t see) for Ms. Bankhead to use as a reference for her vocal performance. Rebecca Baygents Turk’s costumes, from Ms. Bankhead’s improbable red gown (looking much like Bette Davis’s frock in All About Eve) to Danny Miller’s high-waisted slacks and slick shoes impressively represent a 1965 as one might imagine it from seeing sitcoms of the era; too perfect to be real, but too defined and attractive to ignore.

Ultimately, Looped misses its target, but not by as much as it could’ve had Evolution’s production not had such a proficient design team and game cast. At its best moments, when Ms. Bragg’s lines elicit honest laughter and Mr. Osbeck‘s exasperated look relaxes a bit in intensity, the production is quite enjoyable, though it takes someone with an appreciation of the era, film making, and that special kind of smoky female brashness to hang on through the more awkwardly written moments (like the ending that feels right out of Casablanca). Note to other playwrights: exercise caution when including excerpts from vastly superior works (in this case, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire) into your script.

My rating: ** 3/4 out of ****

Looped continues through to September 24th in the Van Fleet Theatre within the Columbus Performing Arts Center at 549 Franklin Avenue, and more information can be found at http://evolutiontheatre.org

Local Murder Serves Up Inspiration

It was in the summer of 1926 when it all began. Dr. James Howard Snook, 46, a professor of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, offered student Theora Hix, 21, a ride back to her dorm. Within weeks they were lovers, and over the next three years they would have trysts all over Columbus, until the fateful day that it all ended in murder. The Hix-Snook case was all the rage in 1929, with details of the affair and murder becoming the stuff of urban legend. And now Columbus playwright Amy Drake has dramatized the story in her play Somewhere I Can Scream, which begins a limited run this weekend in Columbus.

Somewhere I Can Scream was inspired by various references I had heard about the case while growing up in Columbus,” Amy says. “The play grew out of a curiosity to find out if the stories I had heard about the Hix-Snook case really were true. I discovered that the testimony was even more bizarre than the urban legend.”

Amy’s journey to bring this story to the stage began three years ago. She developed it further upon acceptance into the Kenyon College Summer Institute on Playwriting, working closely with mentor Clifford Lee Johnson III, an instructor representing the Manhattan Theater Club. Since then, she has refined the work and presented sections at readings as far west as last weekend in La Jolla, California.

“The script was gleaned from testimony, newspaper, and magazine articles about the case,” Amy says, adding that “although the play is based on real-life events, it is a work of fiction. I had to create dialogue to round out scenes and flesh out characters.”

Photo: Cynthia DeGrand – Kent Halloran as Dr. Snook & Roxy Knepp as Theora Hix
The case was noteworthy for the time in the explicit sexual details divulged during the hearing, much of which wasn’t even able to be printed or hinted at in newspapers of the day. The title Somewhere I Can Scream comes from an alleged quote by Hix concerning where she and Snook should rendezvous, commenting that she preferred to meet “someplace where I can scream.” True to its source, this production comes with the following disclaimer: Due to the explicit sexual nature of the story no one under 18 will be admitted.

“We are obscuring the sexually graphic scenes with set pieces and letting the audience imagine what is happening based on dialogue,” Amy states, but the implication stands that this is an excellent reason to book a babysitter and leave the kiddies at home.

Somewhere I Can Scream will be performed from July 23rd-July 26th in the Van Fleet Theatre within the Columbus Performing Arts Center at 549 Franklin Avenue, and more information can be found at http://drakeorationcompany.com/

******** 7/25/15 update: I saw the play last night. I must now apologize to anyone who read this piece and went to see the play on my recommendation. Here is my review: http://lifefullofcheese.com/2015/07/25/somewhere-i-can-scream-drake-oration-company-columbus-oh/