BWW Review: Abrasive, Insensitive Men Need Lovin', Too in Tracy Letts' LINDA VISTA
If there ever was a demand for greater representation on Broadway stages for straight, single, cisgender white guys in their 50s who are insensitive to the women they manage to date and have sex with, Tracy Letts' Linda Vista would surely fill the void. A sort of 21st Century toxic male take on Paddy Chayefsky's classic "Marty", Letts' new one has its funny moments, and maybe even a bit of poignancy here and there, but is it worth spending nearly three hours watching some full-of-himself average lug continually screw up his romantic opportunities?
Translating to "Pretty View" from Spanish, Linda Vista is named for the San Diego apartment complex where Dick Wheeler (yes that's his name) has just moved in after living in the garage of his soon-to-be ex-wife's new home, trying to spend more time with his disinterested son.
Played with a combination of Sad Sack defeatism and abrasive social arrogance by Ian Barford, Dick, who prefers to be called Wheeler, describes to his happily married college bud Paul (Jim True-Frost) how a recent date with a woman from a military family went sour after expressing regret for "these pointless bullshit wars" and how "all these motherfuckers are dead for no good reason."
Wheeler also regrets not having known Ali MacGraw during the period where, as revealed in her autobiography, she was a sex addict. ("I never meet any female sex addicts," he complains.)
A former staff photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times who's now making a modest living repairing cameras, Wheeler at least isn't as bad as his lecherous boss, Michael (Troy West), who openly leers at his young employee Anita (Caroline Neff). Anita is accustomed to handling such attention from men and gently, but honestly, rejects the much-older Wheeler's request for a date.
Perhaps thinking his pal can use some positive energy in his life, Paul and his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy) invite him out on a double date to meet their friend Jules (Cora Vander Broek), a life coach with a master's degree in happiness.
Indeed, Jules isn't put off by Wheeler's grumpiness and refusal to sing as they hang out at a karaoke bar, and even sees some sweetness and vulnerability in him. "You're like a turtle who doesn't know he's lost his shell," she coos.
And though their first sexual romp shows that Wheeler can still be a bit clueless when it comes to sensitivity (Intimacy consultant Claire Warden's sex scenes are graphic and athletically demanding.), Jules, who has some emotional damage to deal with, is willing to see where things go.
When Minnie (Chantal Thuy), a young punk-styled resident in the complex, shows up at Wheeler's door looking to escape an abusive boyfriend, he allows her to stay with him. Will he mess up the possibility for a mature relationship with Jules when the opportunity arises for some fun with the less-complicated Minnie? Is he really prepared for her?
Pregnant and half his age, she warns, "I promise... I'll hurt you. It's what I do."
If Linda Vista were a little deeper, perhaps it would engage as a sincere look at an aging man discovering how the actions and attitudes that worked for him twenty-five years ago have lost their potency when encountering women who expect more.
But, as embraced by director Dexter Bullard, it plays like one of those formulaic, comfortably predictable sitcoms that you might have enjoyed twenty years ago, but watching it now makes you cringe at what you once found funny.