Tracy Letts' new play "Linda Vista" revolves around the premise that "new friends are better than old friends" as well as "getting old sucks."
Wheeler (Ian Barford) is moving into his generic bachelor digs, a rotating box under a scrim of the be-palmed San Diego skyline (designed by Todd Rosenthal), in a world scored by (and lived "like a character from") Steely Dan songs. Newly divorced, he notes that "he can see nasty from here," and eschews loyalty, which is "how you end up camping with Hitler."
His somewhat happily married friends, home brewer Paul (Tim Hopper), and his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy), set him up at a karaoke bar (they sing "Isn't It Ironic?") with similarly middle-aged life coach Jules (Cora Vander Broek). At the same time, the estranged father becomes friendly with 20-something, Vietnamese rockabilly (costumes by Laura Bauer) neighbor Minnie (Kakyun Kim).
Under misogynist boss Michael (Troy West), alongside another possible girl/friend, coworker Anita (Caroline Neff), he toils in a camera store, a metaphor for his old school proclivities. Wheeler and his relationship ideas are a dying breed, just like analog photography, a field where he used to dabble before losing his ambition (he was almost published in the Chicago Sun-Times 15 years prior).
Some current events are shoehorned in, like "if you voted for President Pussy Grabber, then go fuck yourself," "Donald Trump voters need to do more Oxycontin," plus some "MAGA shit" humor, but mostly it's two full acts of straightforward aging observations, like a repeated recognition of personal humiliation and the fact that "maturing is painful, especially when you do it in front of other people."
In our real-world dystopia, my middle-aged female plus-one and I had difficulty connecting with yet another white guy story about lovin-and-leavin' 'em, and how sad it is to be alone even though surrounded by friends and multiple relationships, about a "caterpillar that never becomes a butterfly."
Wheeler is a mess -- "not a criticism, more about timing" -- but it's hard to care when it's of his own entitled making. The view should be beautiful, a real 'Linda Vista,' but freewheelin' Wheeler is unable to capture that on film, or in his heart. On stage, as currently in life, this is no country for old women.
"Linda Vista" runs through May 21 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL. For tickets or information, call 312-335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org