The writer who sued Valerie Harper for bailing out of his play has expressed “love and admiration” for the cancer-stricken star he’s battling in court — and recast the villain in the grubby “she sued/he sued” backstage drama.
Playwright Matthew Lombardo has been depicted as the heel in his battle against Harper, who actually sued him first to be paid for work she did before dropping out of the Tallulah Bankhead bioplay “Looped” as her cancer spread.
“The truth is Val’s husband Tony Cacciotti initiated this lawsuit,” Lombardo posted on Facebook on Monday, twisting the shiv by adding, “(It’s) very much like he did when he got his wife fired 20 years ago from her television series and then subsequently sued NBC.”
Lombardo’s $ 2 million countersuit argues that he should be reimbursed for his losses because Harper did not tell him she had cancer, which forced her bailout.
“I am deeply saddened Val has allowed (Cacciotti) to legally pursue these meritless allegations and pray that she will put an end to this negativity and concentrate on staying healthy for many years to come.”
In 2010, Harper, now 74, got a Tony nod for her role as Bankhead, but the production was a flop that ran 33 performances. The national tour was seen as a way to salvage the production.
The latest dustup comes just as Broadway is poised to honor excellence with the announcement of the Tony nominations on Tuesday morning.
And Broadway insiders are appalled that the Great White Way’s annual party is being upstaged.
“I’m a Broadway guy. And this lawsuit isn’t good for Broadway,” says longtime theater publicist Rick Miramontez. “The Tonys are the moment where Broadway gets celebrated in a big way. This is when Broadway becomes the national news story it once was.”
“Valerie Harper is beloved and an enduring pop cultural figure,” says Miramontez. “But it’s a shame that this is the big story.”
Especially since the 2013-14 season is the most competitive season in at least a decade, maybe more. But Tony thrills have been somewhat swamped by Harper’s travails.
“The suit casts a pall,” says a theater pro who preferred to speak on the condition of anonymity. “The takeaway is that Broadway is just as treacherous as film and TV.”
The lawsuit is more complex and interesting than the lightweight “Looped,” which found a boozy, late-career Bankhead in a recording studio.
‘Touching a woman’s purse is like touching a woman’s vagina,’ her character once said.
Lombardo’s lawyer, Leslie Ben-Zvi told the Daily News that he and his client “were not looking for publicity” in regard to this suit.
“Although Mr. Lombardo has tried to resolve this as a gentleman and not run to the press,” Ben-Zvi added, “he was given no choice but to defend himself as would anyone in his position and to reluctantly reveal what had actually transpired behind the scenes.”
On Facebook, Lombardo noted: “Everyone who knows me knows that I have nothing but love and admiration for Valerie Harper and I share everyone’s delight that her cancer is in remission.”
At valerieharper.com, the actress includes clips from “Looped.” In one Harper appears in character as Bankhead and scolds a man for touching her purse. “Touching a woman’s purse is like touching a woman’s vagina. (Pause) Of course I can only fit so much in the purse.”
Now the countersuit is aimed directly at Harper’s pocketbook. But there’s no laugh line.