Monday, September 7, 2015

Looped—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland

“The Kindness of Strangers”

This comedy about a “fading” star is written by Matthew Lombardo and directed and designed by Donald Horn (the theatre’s Artistic Director).  It is playing through September 26th at their space, 1785 NE Sandy Blvd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

Tallulah Bankhead was probably a legend in her own mind.  She was rather good in a starring role in Hitchcock’s, Lifeboat, and quite good in The Little Foxes and The Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway, so she did have the acting chops when she chose to utilize them.  But she was also her own worst enemy and fell into drugs, alcohol, promiscuous behavior, swore “like a sailor” and was generally a pain-in-the-ass with anybody she worked with.  Her famous line, when questioned about a drug addiction to cocaine, was that she couldn’t be addicted to it, and she should know, because she’d been using it for years.

In this instance, in the last few months before her death, “Miss Bankhead” (Margie Boule’) has been called upon to loop one line of dialogue in her final film (rather awful, in my opinion) of a thriller called, Die, Die, My Darling.  Looped, in film terms, means to re-record a line of dialogue in a studio and lip-sync it to the action of the film.  (The title of the play may also refer to her being high/drunk, or “looped,” when she did it.).  Reportedly it took eight hours for her to loop one line (some of that time she was AWOL from the studio).  The play is taken from the actual transcripts of the recording session.

The time is 1965 in L.A. in a recording studio.  Present are the film editor, Danny (David Sargent), who has reluctantly agreed to “direct” this one moment in time, as the actual Director has fled to Europe.  It seems that the sound man on the boom mike brushed against some shrubs while she was speaking this line and, therefore, has to be re-recorded.  Also present are the sound engineer, Steve (James Sharinghousen) and, of course, a very late, “Miss Bankhead,” herself (Boule’).

Through the whole process, Tallulah seems to be deliberately stalling, perhaps because she is bored and/or lonely.  But she uses every excuse in the world to avoid ending the session.  She needs a drink, she has to do some coke, she gets a phone call from her sister who needs money and, in a back-handed way, she seems like she really wants to get to know the person she is working with.

So, during this ordeal, she reveals bits and pieces about herself.  How her mother died at her birth and the aftershock from her father; how her fascination with a famous star led her to Hollywood, ending in a disastrous outcome to their affair; how laughter from the audience, in a dramatic role written for her, crushed her confidence; and, of course, the effects of her “loose” living on her body and mind.  As she put it, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.  She probably was cursed with knowing herself too well and loathing what she saw.

We also learn from the exchange with Danny, that he, too, has secrets.  Appearing on the outside to be  a plain, ordinary guy just trying to get by, but underneath is also pain and regret of a marriage, of a love affair, of a child and (maybe like all of us) dreams unfulfilled.  The relationship between these two begins somewhat business-like, sinks into adversarial, deepens into confessional, then levels out at a mutual understand and respect.  Pretty impressive and well presented.

Shareninghousen is always worth watching, even in a small but important role as this.  Sargent is very good in all the different layers he puts on a character that is seemingly just a bland guy at the beginning.  He is quite believable in his relationship with Bankhead and we see him grow as he goes from disliking her to caring.  And Boule’ is terrific!  While watching her I quite forgot what the original Tallulah looked like and fully accepted her presence as the real person.  She’s a perfect choice for the role.  This could have been overplayed with little insight or empathy for the character but, in her deft hands, she becomes all too real and we see a tortured human being rather than a cheap, campy caricature.  Bravo, Ms. Boule’!

As always, Horn understands the rhythm of his actors.  He takes us on a roller-coaters ride between these two people and, in the end, we understand them more and, perhaps, ourselves. I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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