Jim True-Frost, Cora Vander Broek, Ian Barford & Sally Murphy
By Eugene Paul
Tracy Letts and the Steppenwolf Company at their scathing best.
Vista, indeed. What’s so “Linda” about it? Okay, there’s more there than
meets the eye. Sure, designer Todd Rosenthal runs a city silhouette
overlaid with palm trees above his utterly mundane apartment that Wheeler
(Ian Barford) is moving into aided by his old bud Paul (Jim True-Frost), the
two them shlepping, shlepping while the house lights are still up and while the
late comers are still making pests of themselves squeezing past already
ensconced audience members. Director Dexter Bullard is pretty cool, his
wily Steppenwolf production already under weigh. We’ll get to figure out just
what’s so “Linda”. But he’s not going to flat out tell us.
actors, suitably addressed by designer Laura Bauer, are in process of
acclimating us, their audience, into seeing them more and more as
characters and less and less as actors which is a refreshing approach in view
of the fact that lots of audiences like to see their actors visibly acting. And
in this case, Wheeler is acting more smartass than usual to get beyond Paul’s
pro forma commiseration with Wheeler’s divorce. And hence, this apartment in
lieu of the house he had to give Kelly and their teen ager mystery of a son.
Caroline Neff, Ian Barford & Troy West
god, the money. He barely makes enough to feed himself in that half ass
job he had to scrounge. Works in a camera shop, repairing cameras. His
boss, Michael (Troy West) is the awesome epitome of the Dirty Old Man, so
of course, dirty Michael has hired Anita (Caroline Neff) as his totally
unnecessary clerk, her job qualification: big boobs.
are either laughing or gobsmacked by Wheeler’s vituperous blue zingers as
he unleashes a barrage of epithets every time he opens his mouth in his endless
flow of assessments of his life as a middle aged divorced man with no
prospects. Which gives Paul the tiny opportunity to suggest that perhaps
he might allow Paul and Margaret to fix him up with a date? No, not a
teeny bopper, Wheeler’s fifty, a friend of Margaret’s closer to Wheeler’s
age. A real woman.
turns out to be Jules (Cora Vander Broek) when we meet Paul and his wife,
Margaret (Sally Murphy) with Wheeler in this sort of karaoke club, Wheeler
disparaging everything especially himself, to Jules, who happens to be a Life
Coach with a degree in Happiness. Which invites Wheeler’s wickedest wit no
end. Except that as they get drunker, they get more charming for each
other. With Jules and Wheeler ending up in his meh aparment fornicating happily
block away and a couple of nights away at another Broadway theater there’s more
naked copulation, also brought into the Great White Way from Off. Or
Off-Off. Or further. Is it part and parcel of the story being told, thus
being completely natural and an improved artistic depiction? If you move
yourself in that direction you have a wobbly position when Wheeler scratches
his bare ass for a laugh. And gets it. Making him Barford, the
actor, for the moment. This is not the time to consider the entire issue
of whether or not Broadway is cashing in on what the internet has
been cashing in on for quite a while, so playwright Tracy Letts,
thoroughly aware of all the ramifications if you’ll pardon the expression
carries on nobly.
Cora Vander Broek & Ian Barford
not quite nobly. We’re dealing with utter shit Wheeler, and have
been ready to bolt until Wheeler, in describing a moment that struck him to the
heart, turns into a human being, and we’re back, fully with him, and his
interpreter. Which might be a mistake. Because Wheeler, out of the goodness of
his –well, not heart, gives house room to poor Minnie (Chantal Thuy), who is
pregnant, broke, and twenty. And cute in a tough way. And totally wrong for
Wheeler at this mid-life crisis cliché. After all, Wheeler loves
Jules, Jules loves Wheeler. But Wheeler dumps Jules. He’s got Minnie. And
a potential baby, even though he hates his own kid.
Letts is on a roll. He’s a proven master, being a terrific actor, of
writing scenes actors cannot help but revel in and in Wheeler he is either
exorcising demons or scaring himself to death because it’s such damn, venomous,
dangerous fun. And so, Minnie dumps Wheeler. Where do we go from there? Ah,
where do we go from there.
countless ways the Steppenwolf Company of actors under director Bullard’s
inspired acumen runs gamuts and they are superb, with or without clothes. And
Tracy Letts gives them a feast of words for ravishing us. But you’ll hate
yourself in the morning.
Linda Vista. At Helen Hayes Second Stage Theater, 240 West 44th
Street. Tickets: $79-$149. 212-239-6200. 2hrs, 30 min. Thru Nov 10.