Wheeler (a terrific Ian Barford) is a fifty-year-old divorcée with a new apartment and old problems. Caustic and snobby, he is the kind of character that male writers have been fashioning for centuries: a failed artist and a hopeless womanizer whose self-hatred works to defuse any outside criticism. Additionally, Wheeler loathes Trump and reads Michelle Alexander, so is mostly given a pass for his casual misogyny and bruising personality.
There is often a hint of admiration mixed into the writing of characters like this, as if the author privately envies what he knows he must publicly scorn. Tracy Letts betrays no such feeling in Linda Vista, which serves instead to demystify characters like Wheeler. Angry and depressed, he pursues an age-inappropriate co-worker (Caroline Neff) and an age-appropriate life coach (Cora Vander Broek) before swinging back, once again, to an age-inappropriate neighbor (Chantal Thuy). His sex life is inexplicably lively, but in the heat of the moment he is more often than not winded and fearing for his heart. The humiliation peaks late in the play when he arrives at a picnic wearing a leather jacket and a porkpie hat. The ruse of youthfulness is belied by a bum hip and a girlfriend who is half his age and half out the door. The juxtaposition does Wheeler no favors.
Linda Vista, then, works as a corrective to all the television networks and bestseller lists populated by similar over-the-hill, self-pitying, and superior men. Perhaps it’s too much to hope that this will put a full stop to such masturbatory fantasies, that Wheeler will effectively bury all future versions of himself. But the next time I come across a Hank Moody type, I’ll be sure to supplement the fawning characterization with my memory of Wheeler’s lone and lonesome wheezing.
Linda Vista runs through November 10th at the Helen Hayes Theater. 240 W. 44th Street New York, NY. 2 hours 40 minutes. One intermission.