Some readers have reported technical issues with this edition of The PopCulteer. To try and iron them out, we have moved the photo essay, Charlton Neo Kickstarter news and the schedule for The AIR to separate posts and republished these as four different entries. Let’s hope that works. Now on with the PopCulteer:
Our main reason for going to Chicago was to see Linda Vista, the new play by Tracy Letts, at Steppenwolf, the place where your PopCulteer got married. This story of a middle-aged white guy trying to resurface after falling into the deep end of the pool of bad life choices is probably the most laugh-out-loud funny thing that Letts has written. It’s still touching and poignant with a relevant subtext, but it’s also funny as hell.
Linda Vista, billed as “An Adult Comedy about Immature Behavior,” tells the story of Wheeler (Ian Barford), a 50-year-old under achiever who’s just moving out after spending two years sleeping on a cot in the garage of his estranged wife’s house. Wheeler is smart, funny, charming and also confused by the changing world around him. He works in a dead-end job as a camera repairman and early in the play finds himself on a blind date with a “life coach,” named Jules (Cora Vander Broek), with whom he begins a relationship.
Without going into too much plot detail, Wheeler manages to screw things up one month into that relationship, and winds up as half of a doomed couple with the much younger, pregnant Vietnamese-American Rockabilly chick, Minnie (Kahyun Kim). His longtime college buddies (Tim Hopper, Sally Murphy) are somewhat horrified by his actions, and as his world falls apart he finds himself dealing with miserable developments with his wife and son and melts down at work.
Because I don’t want to write a book about this play, just let me say that it was spectacularly performed and exqusitely written. There were no weak links in the cast with every performer perfectly capturing the essence of their roles and Barford making “Wheeler” a very real entity. The story evoked a “there but for the grace of God go I” feeling in me as it put Wheeler through the paces of what seemed like a cross between a “Make Your Own Adventure” book and “Cards Against Humanity.” The audience really, really comes to like Wheeler and root for him, and he keeps making the worst possible decisions. There is a hint of redemption at the end, just to keep the play from being so realistic that it becomes depressing.
His friend Paul (Hopper) even addresses this in a long spiel where his advice boils down to “You will do what you will do,” because he realizes that his advice will be ignored no matter how sound it is. What at first seems like Paul evading the concept of giving advice turns out to be the most prophetic words spoken in the play.
Linda Vista is a very funny, but deeply-textured play that addresses the plight of the aging straight white male in a world where that doesn’t really mean anything good anymore. As always, Letts’ characters are ultra-realistic and his situations plausible, but entertainingly offbeat.
There are a couple of sex scenes in this play. They aren’t really anything that you wouldn’t see in an R-rated movie, but the sight of fully-nude men and women simulating sex on stage is still a bit shocking, which perfectly serves the story in this case. This is a play about real-life people who actually have sex. Anyone offended by depictions of perfectly normal sex might not want to see this play. For the rest of us, it’s adds another layer of realism to Linda Vista.
Linda Vista might also be offensive to supporters of the current White House resident, as the characters depicted are intelligent, educated and discuss politics in a frank and explicit nature a few times during the play. That the pointed political barbs, which are all hilarious and which nearly receive standing ovations on their own, all come at the expense of the most delicate and overly-sensitive segment of the political spectrum, followers of that particular brand of politics might want to avoid this show. Luckily, the Venn Diagram overlap between Trump supporters and supporters of quality theatre is very tiny, so it’s not likely to be much of an issue.
Also of note is the revolving set, which is almost a cast member itself. Set designer, Todd Rosenthal, created an efficient turntable that brings every scene to life with pieces that change out while out of view of the audience. You really get the feel of San Diego with the revolving sets and the large photo that hangs over the stage.
So, for what it’s worth coming from a Pop Culture blog originating in Charleston, West Virginia, Linda Vista is a triumph that should be seen by fans of intelligent theater. It’s smartly-written, wonderfully-performed and manages to be funny and thought-provoking at the same time. Linda Vista is scheduled to run through May 28 at Steppenwolf, in Chicago.