New York City Theater
Helen Hayes Theater
Dick Wheeler (a terrific Ian Barford) is discontented. Newly separated from wife and son, he moves into a San Diego apartment. Believing “loyalty to an idea is better than loyalty to people,” his cynicism gets the better of him as he decries “the lousy comic book culture we live in.” Worst of all, Wheeler, the hero of Tracy Lett’s sardonic yet sympathetic, funny yet sad “Linda Vista,” is as unmoored as Dante in “The Inferno.”
“Midway in our life’s journey,” Dante writes at the outset, “I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
And so it is with the 50-year-old Wheeler, whose Virgil-like guide is best friend, Paul (the wonderful Jim True-Frost). Paul’s wife, Margaret (Sally Murphy), pegs Wheeler for the near-useless shmo that he is. Working a dead-end job in a camera shop, after being fired from his position as a newspaper photographer, Wheeler sees the demise of newspapers as another sign of a failing civilization.
He’s a good guy, really, a sensitive, insecure soul who protects the stacked young woman, Anita (Caroline Neff), who also works in the shop and is constantly hit upon by Michael (Troy West), the shop’s scruffy owner.
Paul and Margaret try to help, introducing Wheeler to Jules (Cora Vander Broek), a lifetime coach whom he quickly beds. (The sex scenes hold nothing back.) But that doesn’t last, either, as he’s soon onto another conquest, Minnie (Chantal Thuy), a rockabilly hipster. Yet you can’t help liking the poor guy or, at least, pitying him. Helpless, hapless, he’s so lost in the woods, you wonder if he’ll ever emerge.
In many ways, this is an archetypal story of a flawed hero who descends into a sort of Hell (the Linda Vista apartment complex?), only to emerge a better person. After all, Wheeler has his virtues, shallow though they may be. For one, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of old Hollywood movies (“Barry Lyndon” is a favorite and he remembers Ali McGraw’s hair style in “Convoy.”)
Braford plays Wheeler as disappointed in himself as he is in life in general. He’s a self-conscious physical and psychological wreck, increasingly bothered by a bad hip, yet also realistic and occasionally decent. As Jules, Broek is heart-warming, a woman willing to open her emotions, though only so far. As the other woman, Thuy is more pragmatic and smarter than she appears, while Murphy, Neff and West are all excellent.
Director Dexter Bullard, with the help of designer Todd Rosenthal’s turntable set, keeps the action flowing. Although probably at least somewhat autobiographical, Letts hits the sore spot where youth rasps against middle age – with old age around the corner. The play’s incidents may not be universal, but its feelings surely are.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 24, 2019
--David A. RosenbergOct. 24, 2019