When a friend encouraged her to appear on the "Batman" television series, telling her it would be camp, Tallulah Bankhead replied, "Don't tell me about camp. I invented it." Rick Sparks directs "Tallulah," at St. Genesius Theatre, with sly wit and carefully controlled camp, a fitting tribute to a woman who was less an actress and more a personality.
Nan Schmid's often snide script sacrifices depth along with some incidental facts, but captures the egotism and eccentricities that made Tallulah famous.
Beginning with their mother's funeral, where older sister Eugenia (Mona Mansour), the narrator, grumbles, "by her mere birth, my sister Tallulah topped me," the play wastes no time, whisking Tallulah (Schmid) away to New York at age 15. She mixes with the famed Algonquin Round Table, dabbles in lesbianism and finds success onstage in London, where her partying is fueled by booze and drugs. She later marries disastrously, goes to Hollywood and finds fame, and thereafter fights to remain in the public eye.
Schmid doesn't resemble the glamorous young Tallulah, but she captures Tallulah's peculiar crassness mixed with charm. One fully believes her capable of urinating in front of a toothy Eleanor Roosevelt (Katie Zeiner) in this unapologetic celebration of a woman who "always needed an audience."
Sparks skillfully choreographs the action, from the drugged collapse of party guests, to the corny falling-in-lust time-stops sequences (complete with appropriately sentimental music). His ensemble is winningly up to the task. Ray Ortiz's tawdry set design fits this hilarious production nicely.
"Tallulah," St. Genesius Theatre, 1047 N. Havenhurst Drive, West Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 3. $8. (213) 960-2068. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.