Entertainment » Theatre

Linda Vista

by Dale Reynolds
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 29, 2019
Ian Barford and Caroline Neff in 'Linda Vista'
Ian Barford and Caroline Neff in 'Linda Vista'  (Source:Craig Schwartz)

Mid-life crisis — at age 50 or so — is no picnic for anyone, especially a man simply called Wheeler (an invigorated Ian Barford), the protagonist in this sad-but-funny play by a master of his craft, Tracy Letts.

Wheeler is in the throes of a terrible divorce, unable to control his 14-year-old drug-ingesting son who lives with his soon-to-be-divorced wife. He also has serious issues with falling in love again with — not one — but two younger and sexually-open women. And he has moved to San Diego's eastern suburb of Linda Vista, a not quite solid move as his soon-to-be ex-wife lives nearby.

When he joins his best pal, Paul (Tim Hopper) and his wife, Margaret (Sally Murphy), at a park picnic, he also brings along his new love, the intelligent and beautiful Jules (Cora Vander Broek), with whom he is prepared to go the distance. Unhappily, and as a prime example of his simmering emotional turmoil, he then breaks it off with Jules when he begins an affair with sexy and pregnant Vietnamese-American Minnie (Chantal Thuy), showing just how screwed-up he is, psychologically and career-wise.

See, he started out at a major newspaper in Chicago as a photojournalist, only to sabotage himself by exiting from the paper. This has led him to hold-his-career as a repair jockey at this small photo repair shop run by an even worse troglodyte, Michael (Troy West); but it is a job he is forced to quit, jeopardizing the job of a co-worker, Anita (Caroline Neff) in the process.

A bummer of a story that (surprise!) is very, very funny.

In spite of Wheeler being an emotional mess, playwright Letts has used his gift of character-gab to inform each of his characters, especially the lead fellow, as to what each wants and explore some of why they can't get it easily. Director Dexter Bullard (who directed the original production at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre), has a firm hand on the long (140 minutes), intermissionless length, allowing each actor the time they need to clue us in on what's going on. If there's any weirdness in the evening, it's the long spell at the top of the show in which Wheeler moves his few possessions into this small two-bedroom apartment in this insignificant township with glorious views of eastern San Diego County and Mission Bay, and the Pacific Ocean, to the west.

Scenic Designer Todd Rosenthal has utilized an ingenious revolving set of the apartment, with a beautiful view of downtown San Diego in a banner running the entire width of the stage, under Marcus Doshi's sensible lighting design, especially when Mr. Barford and Ms. Broek, and then he and Ms. Thuy, have naked sex.
The production is blessed with these fine actors, most of whom performed it in Chicago, with solid, understated work on their part. Barford and Hopper make the most of the best scene in the play (with its intelligent dialogue outlining their positions), and Barford's excellent dinner-scene with Broek, when he stupidly breaks up with her.

Not counting the nudity, this is an adult play, with adult pain, some of which the characters understand. Considering how long it is, the plotting and characterizations make it go by quickly, with the second half making hay with what was set up in the first act.

By all means, see this smart and affecting play.

"Linda Vista" plays through February 17th, 2019, at the Mark Taper Forum, Temple @ Grand, downtown Los Angeles. Tickets: 213.628.2772.

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