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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The double view of a bright and sunny looking billboard upstage , and the bland apartment downstage (bravo Todd Rosenthal) points the way for Mr Letts to make Wheeler's mid-life crisis part of the broader picture of a society where life isn't a bed of roses for anyone. That includes women who are better able to deal with their own messes which include navigating a still toxic male world.
But though this isn't a one-man play it IS Wheeler's midlife crisis and it's he who, like Moliere's Alcente, dominated the stage . Since Letts is an expert at nuanced characterization, Linda Vista manages to make us disdain this narcissistic, immature 50-year-old loser's self-deprecating, self-pitying and , self-destructive behavior — and yet admire his caustic wit. Granted, we cheer the women who, despite having their own bad decisions to deal with, do somehow retain their self-respect, we also end up hoping Wheeeler too WILL get his act together .
So, what we have here is a funny-sad protagonist who's the epitome of the anti-hero — too likable to be a villain; too smart to be on a losing streak. Yet on a losing streak he is.
A plot summary may sound like Letts' attempt at a joke a minute sex comedy. After all, even a full frontal nudity sex scene is peppered with hilarious dialogue. But here goes anyway: The opening scene sees Wheeler moving into his Linda Vista apartment. His friend Paul thinks having his own place will help him start dating. But Wheeler is trapped by the circumstances causing his mid-life depression about his mostly self-9nflicted failures. His marriage is ending in divorce because he was unfaithful. His 13-year-old son no longer talks to him. As for his once promising and creative career as a photographer. . . that ended when a disastrously unsuccessful gallery showing of his work prompted him to stop taking pictures and instead settle for a hum-drum job as a camera repairman. As if this weren't enough, a painful hip is making him feel over the hill at 50.
But the one thing that neither divorce, aborted ambition or signs of a failing body has killed is Wheeler's libido. Like a band of cockroaches hiding in one's kitchen but ready to spring into action when a light is turned on, an attractive female rouses his urge to bed her. Thus we see Wheeler's womanizing instincts surface as he attempts to date the attractive, way too young for him, Anita who works in the camera shop with him. While Anita wisely tells him she's not interested, Jules, the blind date his friend Paul and his wife Margaret set him up with , does end up as his partner in that above mentioned raunchy sex scene. And so does Minnie, a very young Linda Vista neighbor who comes knocking at his door asking for shelter after being beaten by her boyfriend.
Fortunately, the Steppenwolf premiere that our California critic Even Henerson reviewed has moved to Broadway intact . Director Dexter Bullock keep everyone moving around Todd Rosenthal's turntable set which effectively accommodate scene changes. For Evan's astute and on the mark observations, be sure to read his review
Ian Barford is again giving an award worthy performance as our anti-hero. Cora Vander Brook , Chantal Thui and Caroline Neff are terrific as the libido arousing women — Vander Brook as Jules, the professional life coach his friends Margaret and Paul (Sally Murphy and the one new cast member, Jim True-Frost) set him up with; Thui as the pregnant and abused Minnie, and Neff as the camera shop co-worker smart enough to reject him right from the start. Also very funny is Paul West as Michael, the obnoxiously lecherous camera store owner who make it less necessary for Wheeler to not use his all too snicker inducing first name (yes, it's Dick!).
Packed as Letts's script is with trenchant and funny observations, even the sitcom-leaning first hour or so hardly had the New York audiences laughing so much that you missed the next line, as was often the case when Neil Simon was King of Broadway dramedies. At the performance I attended Jules got a big laugh and applause when she told Wheeler she has too much self-respect to have anything more to do with him, the Trump references failed to get the anticipated huge laugh. Perhaps we're just too tired to hear anything about Trump until he's finally past history!
Ultimately Linda Vista may have left me somewhat less enthusiastic than Evan., or my companion. I felt a trim was in order,, especially of the overlong Karaoke scene that details the blind date set-up by Margaret and Paul for Wheeler and Jules.
Even if you don't respond to all the humor and aren't deeply moved by Wheeler's final scene , you're likely to wish fpr that ever so slightly hopeful ending to be realized. Turning 50 is still young enough to undo your past mistakes and hold onto your dreams for a fulfilling life.
Links to Tracy Letts plays reviewed at Curtainup:
Augst: Osage County
Man From Nebraska
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Linda Vista by Tracy Letts
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Cast: Ian Barford (Wheeler), Sally Murphy (Margaret), Caroline Neff (Anita), Chantal Thuy (Minnie), Jim True-frost (Paul), Cora Vander Broek (Jules), Troy West (Michael).
Sets: Todd Rosenthal
Costumes: Laura Baue
Lighting: Marcus Doshi
Sound: Richard Woodbury
Dramaturg: Edward Sobel
Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission.
Hayes Theater 240 W. 44th Street
From 9/19/19; opening 10/10/19; closing 11/10/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/15 press performance
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