Published in KPBS On Air Magazine August 1995
If you’ve ever seen Linda Castro onstage, you imagine that she lives some kind of wild, outrageous life. Noted for playing the most bizarre of characters — both male and female — in the most astonishing ways, Castro is one of San Diego’s delicious little theatrical secrets.
But by day, she’s a mild-mannered bookkeeper who only transforms herself into something fantastical when the sun no longer casts a shadow, and when a director casts her in a plum role.
“The way I grew up, ” she says, in her deep, husky voice, “you did more practical things to make your way in the world.” Starting out in Tucson, the only girl of five children in a mobile, Air Force family, Castro wanted to be a psychiatrist or a movie star when she grew up. Her father was a first generation American of Mexican-Indian-Spanish descent; her mother, a first generation Swedish-American, daughter of a vaudevillian/inventor.
After high school in Marquette, Michigan, she attended Northern Michigan University, with a psychology major and a business minor. She worked her way through school with clerical and bookkeeping jobs, and was a psychiatric technician in a hospital psychiatry ward (“writing down any “really” unusual behaviors”). “I’ve always been able to empathize with people, to get lost in the world of books and stories. That drew me to the workings of the human mind, and made me a good observer and a good listener.”
She lived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands for several years but, late in the seventies, her father took ill, and she returned to the States. She dived headlong into a 40-day fast, surviving solely on juice and herb teas, “exploring the spiritual side” of herself. But then, “since I wasn’t dead and hadn’t met God, it was time to eat again.”
She returned to northern Michigan, where she was contacted by her old high school sweetheart. They’ve been married for twelve years. He was in law school, and, at age 30, “just for a lark,” she took a theater course. While she was getting hooked, she became a Short Form Tai Chi instructor and earned a black belt in karate.
When they moved to San Diego in 1984, her husband pursued advanced tax law training at USD, and Castro worked full-time as secretary and bookkeeper, now running her own bookkeeping firm (“I’m a very wild bookkeeper”).
In her spare time, she does film and television work, voiceovers, commercials, corporate entertainment and videos, teaches workshops for the Playwrights Project, portrays multiple characters in a water conservation/awareness play performed in the city schools, and looks for “good scripts and good directors” to work with onstage.
Her San Diego debut was with Sledgehammer Theatre (“Blow Out the Sun”, her first of three productions with the off-beat company). “It was wild stuff. I had no idea what I was getting into. It was a fabulous beginning.” After her recent, frighteningly physical performance in “The Peacock Screams When the Lights Go Out”, the 42 year-old actor admits, “I don’t know if I could survive another Sledge show.” But she relishes quirky material and has generally stayed out of the theatrical mainstream, although she has appeared at the La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe, and the San Diego Repertory Theatre. With her enormous dark eyes, inimitable dental occlusion, unmistakable voice, and irrepressible talent, Castro has captured the attention of critics as well as directors. The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle named her Best Newcomer of 1988; Best Supporting Actress (“The Women”) in 1992, and Outstanding Performer (“A Murder of Crows”) in 1993.
Also unforgettable were her magnificently sexual title role in Ensemble Arts Theatre’s “Lady Macbeth” and, in two striking productions by Theatre E, her amazing gender-bending physicality as a transsexual in “Carthage/Fire” and as a wry, sentimental old man in “Cross-Dressing in the Depression”.
Now she’s on to a new theater (North Coast Rep), a new director (Michael Pieper) and (for her) a new playwright: Eugene O’Neill (August 12 – September 17). The play: “Desire Under the Elms”, the 1924 masterpiece of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Drawing on Freudian psychology, Greek mythology and the theories of Nietzsche, O’Neill tells the story of a cruel, aging farmer whose young son and young wife become lovers, with tragic results for all.
“God!” exclaims Castro. “I haven’t played a woman in so long!… I see this as my Greek play. I can relate to it in a tragic sense. I’ve certainly had tragedy in my life. Tragedy is a happy thing; without it, we wouldn’t be human…
“Abbie is a woman in a circumstance that makes her feel a little trapped, a little desperate. There are very few options open to her. She starts walking through doors, and gets caught in more than she can handle… When people find love or what they perceive as a chance to be loved, it takes away their good sense and reality. It gets to a point where nothing else matters. It’s a great story.”
Castro’s is a pretty good story, too. “I feel like [theater] is something I should’ve been doing a long time ago. Now I feel like it’s something I have to do.” And that’s a good thing for San Diego audiences.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.