The lives and times of stars and celebrities are commonplace today.
Kim Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and even Leonardo DiCaprio are well known for both their public, entertainers personae and perhaps even moreso for their private lives.
A few decades ago, that was Tallulah Bankhead, the subject and main character of OutCast Productions’ upcoming run of “Looped.” Bankhead became famous for her liberal causes, drug and alcohol abuse and rumored bisexuality just as much as for her work on the stage and the screen.
The 90-minute play centers around Bankhead’s inability, either by inebriation or intention, to re-record one line of dialogue from the horror film, “Die, Die My Darling,” also known as “Fanatic.” That movie was one of her last films, and the play will touch on her sense of fading fame and, more macabrely, her impending death due to emphysema.
Director Sean Brennan said her struggles with the line, based on a real event, are about more than just having too much bourbon.
“Is she doing this because she’s flat out drunk and can’t? Is she doing this because she doesn’t want to go home and be alone?” he said.
“She’s on stage for only about two minutes before she’s asking for a drink, then getting argumentative with everyone and demanding one,” Brennan added.
Taking on the task of becoming Bankhead is OutCast co-founder Kathryn Sandy O’Brien. The 75-year-old actress said she identified with several of Bankhead’s well-known traits and characteristics. Both women are fierce liberals, fought for their place of respect in the visual performance community as women and are outspoken, O’Brien said.
“There are things that she says that I could say, and have in one way or another,” O’Brien said.
For O’Brien, inhabiting the loud life of Bankhead has been an experiment in unbridled output. Whatever Bankhead wanted she got, when she had something to say she spoke, and when there was something to drink she downed it.
“It’s been fun, and eye-opening and ear-opening to study this character,” O’Brien said.
“You can get on stage and be naughty and say, ‘Well it’s not my fault,’ ” she added.
Together with Brennan, she read several books about Bankhead. She knew the infamous public persona (the drinking, claims of promiscuity and drug abuse), but wanted to find the person. The one whom her friends knew, the intimate Tallulah Bankhead.
Brennan and O’Brien’s hope is that the audience will leave having understood fame’s highs and eventual low, and how it impacted Bankhead.
“It wasn’t all about the flash and the trash,” O’Brien said. “She was actually a person — loved baseball, loved Willie Mays … There’s no doubt in my mind that she was bisexual, and who cares?”
“Looped” is more than watching a person’s bad behavior and laughing at O’Brien playing a fool or a drunk. It’s part comedy, part tragedy — two sides of a coin, said Brennan — as Bankhead is a victim of the cultural norms and mores of the time, a victim of her own alcoholism and desperate fear of loneliness.
The director can identify with several of those fears. Brennan said he is 31 years sober, and he knows the battle of alcoholism.
“It went from being so much fun to almost becoming a cartoon of who you were,” Brennan said of Bankhead, noting that she took a role as Black Widow on the television series “Batman” as a far cry from her lauded role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”
His hope is that audiences feel conflicted by what they see, caught between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry, between being captivated while wanting to look away from an actress clawing for attention and another moment in the spotlight.