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Tripping on Life

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 18, 2023

Lin Shaye
Photo by Amanda Rebholz
It's been said that if you remember the 1960s, you really weren't there. Well, veteran film and television actress Lin Shaye was there, and she remembers it vividly, at least the slice of it she shares in the "mostly true" autobiographical Tripping on Life, opening tonight at Theatre Row.

The 75-minute solo show, which Ms. Shaye inexplicably performs while reading aloud from her own script, relates a very specific time in her life during the late spring of 1968, when, as she puts it, "love was cotton candy sweet, bathed in tie dye innocence." Technically, the "summer of love" took place during the previous year, but Tripping on Life is decidedly a love story of that time, one that is imbued with flower power and the attendant accoutrements of drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll.

Drifting back and forth between May and July of 1968, the focal point of the show is Ms. Shaye's marriage, at the age of 20, to rock guitarist Marshall Rubinoff. We learn that the two first met when they were both students at the University of Michigan and appeared in a college production of Bye Bye Birdie, her Ursula Merkle to his Conrad Birdie. But, much to the chagrin of Lin's parents, theatrics soon gave way to an all-out embrace of free love, hippiedom, and a wide range of mind-expanding substances. During the period of time covered by the play, Lin and Marshall lived la vie bohême in San Francisco, with little money but with all the joy and freedom they and their friends were able to muster.

The production, directed by Robert Galinsky, incorporates rock music from the time period along with psychedelic/lava lamp images projected onto the rear wall. A black motorcycle, which figures into the story, sits on the stage. The play itself, which is rich in detail and characterization, opens on Lin and Marshall's unconventional wedding day and then moves back and forth in time across the months immediately preceding and following. Eventually, it becomes clear why it is that this sliver of Shaye's life remains so firmly fixed in her memory.

Certainly there is no shaking the read-aloud nature of Ms. Shaye's performance, but what differentiates it from a book-on-tape production are her eloquent facial expressions, gestures, vocal intonations, and an ability to bring all of her characters to life with heart, humor, and a gentle touch.

Tripping on Life
Through October 8, 2023
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: