By THE ENTHUSIAST
Musicals written by pop stars all too often sound as if they were banged out in the back of the bus between tour dates. But singer/songwriter Bareilles (you’ve heard her top-ten hit "Love Song" a zillion times but still brighten up and sing along every time it comes on, don't you?) is the real deal. These are thoughtful, powerful songs without a whiff of the jukebox to them. Viva Bareilles.
Mark Evans and Alison Luff
You might remember Luff from the underrated musical based on the movie Ghost a few years back, but you probably don’t, what with it being so underrated and all. She carries the play with the confidence of a career caterer blithely balancing a soaring stack of china plates. And Evans, who debuted on Broadway in The Play That Goes Wrong, invests Dr. Pomatter with a just-short-of-bumbling sincerity that’s sweet as – no, The Enthusiast isn't going to say it.
Naughty But Nice Cakes
At the end of the day, all those endless pies are beside the point; in its heart of hearts, Waitress is a paean to the pleasures of adultery. Indeed, it’s marginally surprising that Bareilles didn’t have some short-order cook or dishwasher belt out "The Ballad of Ashley Madison." (All right, fine – just two of three relationships actually involve a little something on the side; the other is a paean to the pleasures of combining sex with a passion for reenacting the Revolutionary War. Which surely deserves a spin-off musical of its own).
Dayna Jarae Dantzler
Dantzler’s turn as the you’re-not-fooling-me-for-one-second-fella nurse is the sauciest role that Waitress serves up. When she declares that Pomatter is nothing but a country club doctor, you want to stand up and shout, "Oh, snap!" (Note: But you don’t. For which the cast thanks you.)
"When He Sees Me"
Sung by Dawn (Caitlin Houlahan) soon after posting her first internet dating profile, "When He Sees Me" relates her wide-eyed wonder at what will happen on her first date. “He might sit too close,” she shudders, "or call the waiter by his first name, or eat Oreos." This has given The Enthusiast no little pause, as your reviewer often addresses waiters by first name. Has The Enthusiast been an ogre all this time and not known it?
Tracy Letts is an extraordinary actor. He won the Tony for his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff? in 2013, and in the opinion of The Enthusiast he is far and away the finest George of his generation. It is of course insufferably coy of The Enthusiast to define Mr. Letts in this way, however, given that a) he alas does not appear in this play, and b) he is far better known as a playwright than as an actor. This reviewer felt that his most heralded work, August: Osage County (unanimous winner of the Worst Title of a Play in The Whole History of Ever award), was a good play with a great monologue (written for a character named Beverly Weston, ineffably performed by Mr. Letts’s father, Dennis). Far more people – including, in fairness, the Tony and Pulitzer judges – felt that it was a great play with great everything. Linda Vista is Mr. Letts's latest play. It has no monologues.
If you’re the sort of person who feels that nudity onstage is natural and beautiful and honest and brave, well, this is the natural, beautiful, honest, brave play for you. The Enthusiast, to be honest, has yet to see a play where nudity was any of those things. But Linda Vista did its level best to challenge his preference for actors who keep their knickers on by serving up long stretches of full-frontal nudity from three of the leads. One of those three is, it has to be said, particularly callipygian. Identifying that performer shall be left as an exercise to the viewer.
Cora Vander Broek
Vander Broek delivers the play’s strongest performance, including a delightfully shambolic stab at Lisa Loeb’s "Stay (I Missed You)" while on a blind date at a karaoke bar. Like playing drunk, doing a good job of singing poorly is harder than it sounds.
One of the joys of watching a new straight play is wondering whether it might offer some good fodder for up-and-coming actors. Letts’s most scene-study-worthy exchange here is a piquant stretch of dialogue between Wheeler (Ian Barford) and his friend Paul (Jim True-Frost) after a squash match. (Racquet sports are all the rage on Broadway right now, by the way; squash is mentioned more than once in Betrayal as well.) Wheeler asks Paul for advice about a romantic entanglement, and Paul tells Wheeler that "you’re going to do what you’re going to do." The banter that follows as Paul reiterates that tautologic truth easily merits anthologizing, as does a paean to the Convoy-era Ali McGraw.
In the opening scene of Linda Vista, Paul cautions Wheeler that he’s living like a character from a Steely Dan song. That immediately set The Enthusiast to wracking his brain, trying to think of a Steely Dan song about a glib, preening, self-impressed, utterly unlikeable narcissist; some jazzy B-side from the 70’s, doubtless. But Linda Vista thereafter includes a number of Steely Dan snippets, for which this reviewer was duly grateful. "Deacon Blues" plays as the audience files out. The notion of drinking scotch whisky all night long and dying behind the wheel has seldom sounded more appealing.
The Enthusiast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. But what he declines to praise can speak volumes.