Male middle-age angst has been explored on stage in a variety of forms. As displayed in “Linda Vista,” a play by Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”), that opened this week at the Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the white male misanthrope around which the characters swarm (and spar) is alternating hilarious and depressing.
Letts’ work is the tale of a wayward 50-year-old going trying to rebuild his life after a divorce. “Linda Vista” debuted in 2017 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre with the same director (Dexter Bullard) and nearly the same cast as the L.A. production.
Gruff and Grumpy Observations
Played by the well-cast Ian Barford, Dick Wheeler, who goes solely by his last name, is a heterosexual 50-year-old who feels as obsolete as the old cameras in the shop where he works. Or as one woman tells him, “You are like a turtle who doesn’t know he lost his shell.”
Wheeler’s impending divorce, move into a sparsely furnished apartment in the Linda Vista area of San Diego, and forays into dating have him facing up to the fact that he is no great catch. The road ahead does not look much better than what he sees in his rear-view mirror. The character expounds on Trump voters, current music and movies, his former career as a newspaper photographer, and countless other things that annoy the curmudgeon.
To help him get out of his rut and Linda Vista apartment, his long-time friends Paul (Tim Hopper) and his wife Margret (Sally Murphy) arrange a double date with Jules (Cora Vander Broek), who radiates positivity as a life coach with a master’s degree in happiness in spite of an unhappy past. Even thought Wheeler demonstrates his opinionated and narcissistic self, these opposites attract and start seeing each other nightly. The sex scenes and nudity onstage are supposed to indicate shared intimacy, but – given the personalities – convey their neediness.
On the same night as Jules enters his life, Wheeler improbably takes in his pregnant twenty-something pink-haired Linda Vista neighbor, Minnie (Chantal Thuy), who turns to him when she is abused by her boyfriend. She eventually wins Wheeler’s heart and bed (which breaks Jules’). Then, Wheeler attempts to act more her age versus acting his own.
Throughout the nearly three-hour “Linda Vista,” Wheeler rarely shows signs that he is coming of age or at least smartening up, Eventually, Minnie demonstrates that she is getting her act together and leaving him.
Finally, near the end, Wheeler shows he has learned some things about life and how to treat women. He defends his co-worker Anita (Caroline Neff) from their lecherous, creepy boss (Troy West).
The staging of “Linda Vista” by Todd Rosenthal literally helps move things along. His revolving stage transforms action quickly between Wheeler’s bland apartment to the camera store, a bar, etc.
While the title “Linda Vista” means pretty view, the view of Wheeler is not. However, Lett’s play is ultimately entertaining and funny, if audiences put up with the unlovable loser he created. Barford uses his hangdog features and size to convey his character’s sad state and attempts at evolution. He commands attention in every scene, while putting it all out there (literally, given all the nudity) an the male misanthrope heart of “Linda Vista.” Lett’s play will be at the Mark Taper Forum through Feb. 17.
By Dyanne Weiss
“Linda Vista” performance Jan. 16
Center Theatre Group: “Linda Vista” Opens At The Mark Taper Forum
Los Angeles Times: Tracy Letts knows where to mine laughs: Wherever men are behaving badly
Photos by Craig Schwartz of (top) Cora Vander Broek and Ian Barford in Tracy Letts’ “Linda Vista.” Inset photo of Barford and Chantal Thuy..