Steppenwolf Theater is presenting the world premiere of a new comedy by award-winning playwright Tracy Letts. Letts won a Pulitzer and a Tony in 2008 for August: Osage County. And in the meantime, he’s continued to practice his craft.
His latest play, Linda Vista, tells the story of a middle-aged man, Wheeler, who is finally trying to grow up, moving out of his ex-wife’s garage and navigating a time in his life that is unfamiliar to him.
“Wheeler is a guy who has a lot of opinions,” Letts tells Morning Shift host Jenn White. “Like a lot of guys I know, he seems to think that everybody cares about his opinions. They don’t necessarily, and the discovery that perhaps your worldview — your list of things that you like and dislike — aren’t that important to other people, can be a shocking ego blow at any time in life.”
Morning Shift talks to Letts and the play’s director, Dexter Bullard, about Linda Vista, the current political environment and what about their next acts.
On writing a play using elements of your own life
Tracy Letts: Writing is — I think if you’re doing it well — it’s so personal. The way I write tends to be pretty subconscious, I think. I just let it fly and look at it later and think, “What the hell was I getting at there?” So yeah, I’m sure there were things that I was addressing in my own life. … Dexter, he and I are around the same age, and there were a lot of us in the room looking at each other and talking about our experiences being born in the mid-’60s and growing up and what it’s like to be 50 years old.
On blending humor and drama
Jenn White: This is a comedy, but there’s a lot of darkness in Wheeler and in the lives of the other characters. There’s abuse, addiction, things that are hinted at but don’t really hit us over the head. Talk about that balance you found between light and dark in this script.
Letts: Well, some of that’s just my personality. My work is always, I think, going to have a mixture of light and dark. And I guess it’s because that’s how I view the world. I hope that Linda Vista is a play that’s set in the real world, in 2017. I hope that people see a world that they recognize.
I’m really interested in that idea of viewing people as flawed, as we all are. I’ve said it in the rehearsal room many, many times: No one in here is more flawed than me. I cop to it completely. So there is some bad behavior, but I think it’s recognizable human behavior. I think it’s identifiable behavior.
On his characters addressing current political events
White: You talk about placing the play in 2017. Some of the characters make critiques of the Trump administration and its supporters, and it makes it feel very timely. Why did you include that aspect?
Letts: First of all, because there are very few conversations that I’m a part of in my daily life that don’t touch upon our political moment. And also because Wheeler is a guy who is particularly invested in his own opinions. Those opinions run the gamut — art, culture, and books to politics and social mores — he’s got all sorts of things that he wants to touch on.
There’s also a bit of a dichotomy in Wheeler in that he feels a real sense of integrity when it comes to his discussion of the political or the world at large. This is something I particularly identified with; this idea that he could speak with such judgment and self-righteousness about the world at large, and at the same time conduct himself in his personal dealings with very little integrity. I found that an interesting thing to explore.
On what’s next
White: Tracy, you have a new play, The Minutes, that will be premiering at Steppenwolf next season. It will move directly to Broadway in spring 2018. Tell us about that project.
Letts: It’s a comedy. It’s set in a city council meeting. The minutes refers to the minutes of a city council meeting. So, politics.
White: And Dexter, what can we look for from you?
Dexter Bullard: I’m looking forward to a show at Victory Gardens coming up next spring called Mies Julie, which is a South African adaptation of a famous (August) Strindberg play — infamous, notorious Strindberg play — called Miss Julie.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the ‘play’ button to listen to the entire interview.