If you like your existential misery wrapped in snappy one liners, Tracy Letts is the playwright for you. He did it in “August Osage County” and he is doing it again in “Linda Vista” at the Taper.
Our protagonist is Wheeler (Ian Barford); Wheeler is his last name. He doe not want to be associated with his first name, Dick. Well, you can imagine the possibilities there. Wheeler is fifty and just divorcing. He had had an affair, blah, blah blah. The divorce is bitter. As I said, and as he repeats during the almost three hours lest you lose track, he is fifty, underemployed, attractive enough to easily get laid, and possessed of all the right answers. Just ask him. He hates Trump, likes soft rock like Steely Dan, and makes endless references to old movies as, in his view, there are no good ones being made now. It is full blown midlife crisis time and the references resonate with 90% of the audience. You do not agree with him? You are out.
Wheeler is moving into a sterile San Diego apartment with the help of his old pal, Paul (Tim Hopper), a long – if not blissfully – married guy. Tim and his wife Margaret do more than just commiserate with Wheeler. They fix him up with age appropriate Jules (Cora Vander Broek), a life-coach with a Master’s in Happiness. Oh what could go wrong? (forgive me, as a psychologist I shudder at the mention of the ill defined, ‘life coach’). She turns out to be insightful and ready to bed. A spoiler alert: there are two full nude sex scenes so the faint of heart or parents thinking of taking kids to a comedy, might want to reconsider tickets to
With a case of existential misery as profound as Wheeler’s, bliss can only last so long. And so we have Minnie (Chantal Thuy), a tattooed, 20 something redhead at the door. Of course Wheeler must rescue her. Jules is out the door and there’s the bed, ready and waiting. Things like this happen to 50-year-old guys with schlumpy clothes but great bodies. And, by the way, Minnie turns out to be pregnant by the guy who abused her. As I said, what could go wrong?
Letts is a master of bright romcom dialogue with a message. His characters have nuanced personalities. The lines stay snappy until the characters crash land. Wheeler, whom Letts says is somewhat autobiographical, is both a cad and a decent guy, too talented to be spending his life as a camera repair man. Rapid and frequent scene changes are accomplished by a large rotating set. Unfortunately, Steppenwolf Director, Dexter Bullard, has not adapted the Direction for the semi-circular configuration of the Taper resulting in numerous instances where the audience in the center section was laughing and the side section that surrounded me was silent. For reasons that escape me, projection is not considered important.
Make no mistake, “Linda Vista,” though not a beautiful view of a midlife crisis as the name suggests, is entertaining. Letts knows how to turn a phrase and the cast functions seamlessly as an ensemble. His 2008 play, “August Osage County” won the Pulitzer. “Linda Vista” is a somewhat kinder, more gentle picture. The questions are: Need it be close to three hours? Need a stage play have such frequent scene changes? And, what would it look like if Letts did not rely so heavily on humor? Humor, in the right proportion is a healthy defense, if it functions as a method of avoidance, it is dysfunctional.