Review: Linda Vista (Steppenwolf Theatre)

| April 18, 2017

Kahyun Kim and Ian Barford star as Minnie and Wheeler in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf           
      
  

Linda Vista

Written by Tracy Letts
Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru May 21  |  tix: $20-$94  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Lots of laughs and super-smart dialogue in new Letts work

  

Sally Murphy, Tim Hopper, Cora Vander Broek and Ian Barford star in Linda Vista

    
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
    
Linda Vista

Review by Catey Sullivan

Here’s the good news about Linda Vista. There’s lots of laughs and supersmart dialogue in the new drama from Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts.

Here’s the bad news about Linda Vista. It’s basically a three-hour character study of a straight white guy who sees women solely as objects to be rescued or fucked.

Cora Vander Broek and Ian Barford star as Jules and Wheeler in Linda Vista, SteppenwolfHere’s the question I have about Linda Vista: Does the world need another lengthy drama that’s all to do with a cis, hetero white dude with nothing original or intriguing to say? I’ll go with “no.”

Steppenwolf especially – which recently closed Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men – isn’t serving anybody, except maybe Tracy Letts, by following a show about straight white men with a show about a straight white man. Making matters worse: The one person of color in Linda Vista is an impoverished, damaged and self-destructive, always scantily-clad Asian woman who gets beaten, rescued and fucked before heading off to make porn with an abusive boyfriend.

Director Dexter Bullard keeps the momentum going throughout this world premiere, and makes the 170-minute runtime feel like a 28-minute sitcom episode. His ensemble is excellent, even if the play they’re serving is not. Todd Rosenthal’s rotating set is impeccably detailed as it takes audiences from the camera shop where Wheeler works to his generically pre-furnished apartment to a mall food court.

That expensive set notwithstanding, Linda Vista never goes anywhere significant. Dick Wheeler (Ian Barford) doesn’t even change his sheets, much less himself in Linda Vista. He’s the same despicable person at the end as he was at the beginning, arguably a bit whinier.

When we meet Wheeler, it’s quickly understood that he is broken and joyless and past his prime. His divorce proceedings have been grinding on for years. At lights up, he’s in the process of (finally) moving out of his wife’s garage.

Ian Barford and Troy West star as Wheeler and Michael in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf TheatreIan Barford and Tim Hopper star as Wheeler and Paul in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf

Wheeler’s job as a camera repairman reflects his character: It’s a dead-end gig bordering on obsolescence. His social life consists of bantering with his best friend Paul (Tim Hopper) and eating lunch at the food court with Anita (Caroline Neff), a 20-something coworker who has no intention of getting involved with him beyond the occasional faux-Chinese meal.

The plot follows Wheeler as he becomes involved with Jules (Cora Vander Broek), a smart, attractive, compassionate, genuine grownup who embodies everything the sour, sagging, terminally immature Wheeler is not. A double-date with Paul and his spirited wife Margaret (Sally Murphy) becomes a genuine romance, even though it’s never entirely believable that Jules would fall for Wheeler.

Finally, there’s Minnie (Kahyun Kim), a Vietnamese woman living in Wheeler’s apartment complex. Minnie begs Wheeler for help after her boyfriend beats her up. She’s helpless, basically homeless and completely unable get her life back on track.

The highlights in Letts’ meandering drama don’t come from plot or character developments, but from one-liners that seem crafted specifically to appeal to the upscale liberal audiences that frequent Steppenwolf.

Letts delivers plenty of insta-applause zingers about the president and conservatives such as: “If your friends voted for President Pussy Grabber, tell them a grateful nation says to go fuck yourself.” And: “The trouble with the hill-billy mouth breathers who voted for Trump isn’t that they’re taking too much OxyContin. It’s that they should be taking a whole lot more.” These are funny lines. They are also pandering with shades of righteous pontification.

Ian Barford and Caroline Neff star as Wheeler and Anita in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf TheatreKahyun Kim and Ian Barford star as Minnie and Wheeler in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf

As Wheeler, Barford captures the bitter, sadsack resignation of an unhappy man with less life in front of him than behind. He also nails the entitled obliviousness of a man constitutionally incapable of interacting with women as anything other than helpless damsels or sex toys. Hopper’s sanguine, gently philosophic Paul makes a fine foil. His take on deathbed regrets should be heeded by anyone who is going to die.

In Wheeler’s boss Michael, Troy West creates a character designed to make Wheeler look like a knight by comparison. West’s Michael will make your skin crawl with his graphic, skeevy descriptions of Anita’s body parts. When Wheeler comes to Anita’s defense, he seems almost like an ally. He’s not – although his faux-ally exterior will be familiar to anybody who has endured any form of mansplaining. Michael’s words are the verbal embodiment of Wheeler’s actions. They’re two of a kind – Michael is just more forthright about it.

As Jules, Vander Broek delivers a killer takedown in the final moments of Linda Vista, a passage so scathing and powerful it makes you wish Letts had given her more to do than become entangled with Wheeler. As Paul’s wife Margaret, Murphy also unleashes a compelling heap of scorn deployed with deadly accuracy.

Letts (Superior Donuts, Killer Joe, August, Osage County) certainly knows how to deliver dialogue that’s balanced on a razor-wire between edgy and Neil Simon. With Linda Vista, he’s does this deftly, scoring numerous audience-pleasing digs at matters ranging from Trump to child-rearing.

Still, Linda Vista demands that audiences spend close to three hours on a man-child who has nothing of note to say. We just saw a version of this in Straight White Men. And countless other dramas and comedies dating back to the dawn of theater as an art form. Enough already.

  
Rating: ★★½
  

Linda Vista continues through May 21st at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map), with performances Tuesdays 7:30pm, Wednesdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 3pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20-$94, and are available by phone (773-335-1650) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at Steppenwolf.org. (Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes, includes an intermission)

Kahyun Kim and Ian Barford star as Minnie and Wheeler in Linda Vista, Steppenwolf Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow


  

artists

cast

Ian Barford (Wheeler), Tim Hopper (Paul), Kahyun Kim (Minnie), Sally Murphy (Margaret), Caroline Neff (Anita), Cora Vander Broek (Jules), Troy West (Michael), Aurora Adachi-Winter, Jeanne T. Arrigo, Erin Barlow, John Gawlik, Loren Lazerine (understudies)

behind the scenes

Dexter Bullard (director), Todd Rosenthal (scenic design), Laura Bauer (costume design), Marcus Doshi (lighting design), Christine D. Freeburg (stage manager), Edward Sobel (dramaturg), Gigi Buffington (voice and text coach), Ellie Hausken (assistant stage manager), JC Clementz (casting), Nicole Arbusto (Los Angeles casting), Aaron Carter (artistic producer), Richard Woodbury (sound design), Tom Pearl (director of production), Juli Del Prete (asst. director), Kaili Story (asst. light design), Sarah Illiatovich-Goldman (script supervisor), Vanessa Rundle, Joe Creen (run crew), Sarah Diefenbach (wardrobe crew), Michael Dold, Bennett Seymour (additional props), Jacob Brown, Andrew Glasenhardt, Bailey Jones, Kevin Lynch, Mark Vinson (additional carpentry), Sarah Lewis (asst. change artist), Zhanna Albertini (additional paint), Lina Benich (stage manager apprentice), Dianna Nora (assistant to the playwright), Rebecca Adelsheim, Rebekah Camm, Lavina Jadhwani, Derek Matson, Derek McPhatter, Leean Torske (artistic engagement associates), Michael Brosilow (photos)

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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, New Work, Steppenwolf, Tracy Letts, World Premier

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