Dahling, a brisk, new eight-actor play about actress diva Tallulah Bankhead, is the third Bankhead-oriented project to stake a claim in Manhattan theatres this season, opening Oct. 28 at Off-Off-Broadway's Grove Street Playhouse.
The New York premiere of Nan Schmid's 80-minute play — which uses Bankhead's famous drawled term of endearment as its title — is being billed as "not a one-woman show," in response to the Broadway-bound Kathleen Turner solo vehicle, Tallulah, now touring. It is also not the three-actor Tallulah Hallelujah!, which began performances Sept. 19 at Off-Broadway's Douglas Fairbanks Theatre starring Tovah Feldshuh.
Gareth Hendee, an associate director of James Lapine's on Dirty Blonde, directs Dahling. The play had its premiere in 1998 at Los Angeles' St. Genesius Theatre. Previews for this new, separate Off-Off-Broadway staging of Dahling began Oct. 19 and performances continue to Nov. 25.
Dahling includes 55 characters portrayed by company of eight, including playwright Schmid as saucy, drowsy-eyed Bankhead. Schmid is a four-year veteran of The Second City improv company in Chicago. The play reflects her swift comic acting roots, briskly exploring Bankhead's life, from her difficult Alabama childhood to her international star status. "It's sort of like a fast sketch comedy biography of her," director Hendee told Playbill On-Line. "It starts with her birth and ends with her death and traces through her life. It has a few serious moments; it's an honest depiction of her life. It's pretty zany because her life was zany. She traveled in a wild circle and was always partying, a real impulsive woman. We try to capture the spirit of her gutsy, all-or-nothing attitude."
Schmid saw Broadway's Dirty Blonde and thought the staging had the right sensibility for her Bankhead piece, Hendee said. She was introduced to Hendee through various contacts.
The company includes Lee Blair, Tracey Gilbert, Elizabeth London, Janice O'Rourke, Andrew Oswald, Andy Rapoport, Schmid and Kathy Schmidt.
Designers are Steven Johnson (scenic), Linda Ross (costumes), Chris Dopher (lighting) and Catherine Mardis (sound).
Tickets are $15. Dahling plays 8 PM Wednesdays Saturdays at the Grove Street Playhouse, 39 Grove Street (one block south of Christopher Street, just west of Seventh Avenue). For information, call (212) 358-5812.
— By Kenneth Jones