Ian Barford and Caroline Neff in Linda Vista. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Second Stage's Helen Hayes Theatre
240 - West 44th Street. NYC
Previews: Sept.19, 2019. Opening: Oct. 10, 2019. Closing: Nov. 10, 2020
Time: Two hours, 40 min. No intermission.
Playwright: Tracy Letts
Directed by: Dexter Bullard
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Poor Wheeler, the central character in Tracy Lett’s play, Linda Vista. Smack dab in male menopause, age 50, he is recently divorced, paid his ex a lot of alimony and his teenage son does not speak to him. An intolerant wise ass, Wheeler is difficult to like, even if you empathize the hard times he is going through. This ‘70’s guy is wrapped in an emotional tizzy and feels life should be a lot more enjoyable but his refocus forwarde is clumsy as he keeps tripping over his own steps.
Directed by Dexter Bullard and brought astutely to life by Ian Barford (August: Osage County) at the Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater, Dick Wheeler is snide, smart and self-absorbed. (He goes by his last name since the nickname, “Dick,” conjures up nasty images). While he is witty, Wheeler is also a whiner. Once a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times, he no longer takes photos and now works as a repair man in a camera shop. Leaving his last digs in his ex-wife’s garage, he is moving into a condo/pool community called, “Linda Vista,” in San Diego.
Driving the play with stinging one-liners, playwright Letts (August: Osage County) here leans more toward comedy than depth. In the 1970’s, it was not difficult for men to attract women and this is in-your-face obvious when his friends, Paul (Jim True-Frost) and Margaret (Sally Murphy) set him up on a blind date with Jules, (Cora Vander Broek). She is a perky life coach who reveals she has a “Master’s degree in Happiness.” Wheeler, the cynic, does not hide his scorn.
Nevertheless, Jules is eager for romance and Wheeler is itching for sex, so their first date ends up at his condo for an ungainly roll in the hay, staged by Bullard with full-frontal nudity. Unfortunately, Jules is badly rebuffed by Wheeler, but her revenge later is a sweet moment.
Then there is Girl #2, Minnie, who rings his doorbell and ignites his inner nurturer. Much younger, with tattoos, pink hair and a bun in the oven, Minnie is played with needy friskiness by Chantal Thuy. Wheeler also has had his eye on a buxom 30-something coworker, Anita, a recovering alcoholic, played with a casual friendliness by Caroline Neff.
The acting is engaging, led by Barford. The three women, Cora Vander Broek, Chantal Thuy, Caroline Neff, use their time to aptly define their characters. Troy West plays Michael, Wheeler’s boss in the camera shop, who has his eye on Anita but is mixed up with his own mother issues.
Todd Rosenthal created a revolving set that flows from the apartment to the camera shop and a bar. Lighting by Marcus Doshi creates imaginative moods and Steely Dan songs easily set the era. Laura Bauer dresses everyone for the era but Wheeler stands out in his black leather jacket, porkpie hat and heavy crepe-soled shoes.
The dialogue is blunt and often amusing but while it flows briskly, the episodic play is contrived, overwritten and tiresome, running over two-and-a-half hours with the plot twisting over a road rutted with potholes. By the end, we are left with a familiar tale of middle-aged, clueless but clever Dick, clinging to his younger days. Poor Wheeler.
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com