Linda Vista

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Photo: Review
Deeply humane, often hilarious and ultimately heart-wrenching, Tracy Letts’ “Linda Vista," a Steppenwolf production now at 2ndStage’s Helen Hayes Theater under Dexter Bullard’s sure-handed direction, is a mass of contradictions and conflicts -- much like its main character Dick Wheeler (played by the remarkable Ian Barford in a truly bravura and brave performance, which exposes everything physically and psychologically).

An almost textbook example of "toxic masculinity," the recently separated, 50-year-old former photojournalist-turned-camera repairman, may well be the smartest person in any room; but he also makes some of the most foolish and self-destructive choices imaginable.

In that way, Wheeler (as he prefers to be called) can challenge even a saint’s patience, with his super-strong opinions (about almost everything and anything, from the presidency of Donald Trump to the merits of Keith Richard and Queen to the right of already born children to even exist), disdain for even the slightest social conventions, and complete disregard for his own well-being. Admittedly, “Linda Vista” may feel like a bit of an endurance test for some audience members in part because of Wheeler’s personality, and partially because, like its main character, the play’s length seems self-indulgent at 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In fact, it’s no surprise that Dick’s touchstone movie is Stanley Kubrick’s epically lengthy “Barry Lyndon.”)

Luckily, Letts’ razor-sharp skill at dialogue and characterization will keep most of us riveted, even when we’re feeling angry, disgusted or just a little sad. More than once, we may even find ourselves wishing for an unlikely happy ending for our less-than-sympathetic anti-hero, even if we’re keenly aware that Wheeler is likely incapable of taking the right steps to achieve it.

Indeed, in the show’s first scene, Wheeler bluntly states that he should stay away from women, and like Oprah says, when someone tells you who they are, you should believe it. But his best friend Paul (a superb Jim True-Frost) – now married to Wheeler’s ex-girlfriend Margaret (a bracing Sally Murphy) - doesn’t heed the warning. Less surprisingly, Wheeler, stubbornly and stupidly, doesn’t listen to his own voice, even trying to date his much younger camera shop co-worker Anita (an excellent Caroline Neff).

Eventually, Wheeler actually gets involved simultaneously with two women, eventually leading him to ask Paul for some much-needed advice: Should he continue seeing Jules (a thoroughly sympathetic Cora Vander Brook), the overly optimistic if decidedly neurotic life coach with a Master’s degree in happiness, or break it off with her in order to continue a torrid, ill-conceived fling with Minnie (the convincing Chantal Thuy), the 20-something, pregnant Vietnamese woman who has (perhaps all-too-cunningly) become his “roommate.”

Deep down, Wheeler knows he doesn’t really need to ask the question – never mind hear the response -- which may be why Paul doesn’t really answer it. Instead, Paul simply repeats “You are going to do what you are going to do” over and over like it’s some Buddhist mantra. As much we laugh at this exchange, it’s also the perfect summation of Letts’ philosophy of life. (Indeed, his characters in such works as “August: Osage County” and “Mary Page Marlowe” are never really swayed by others’ opinions.)

Indeed, so much of what Wheeler does is so utterly predictable that one can debate the meaning of the show’s final moments. Is what we witness a continuation of Wheeler’s patented behavior or has he finally found the right focus? Like much of “Linda Vista,” it all depends on your point of view!

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 10/10/2019
Closing Open-ended

Theatre Info
Hayes Theatre
240 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036