THE ONLY PERSON WHO NEEDS THIS NEW TRACY LETTS PLAY IS BEN AFFLECK, Y'ALL
Here are the 3 most important things I want to say about Linda Vista, Tracy Letts' new play, running now at Steppenwolf:
1. This play is VERY MALE. It's about a fifty-year-old, privileged, white, man-child living in a shitty apartment complex (Linda Vista) because he's getting divorced. YAWN. Haven't we had enough stories about broken white men who've been given everything but still cannot figure it out??? The only person in the world who really needs this play is Ben Affleck. Ben cannot figure it out. Ben's got all the money, a beautiful wife and kids, all the opportunities, and Ben cannot figure it out. He might learn something here.
2. Whypipo will laugh their asses off at easy jokes.
3. There are multiple butt-nekkid sex scenes that were EXTREMELY IMPRESSIVE.
It should be noted before we go further that there will be TEPID SPOILERS and that generally I like Tracy Letts. He (and Molly Shannon) were by far my favorite part of Carrie Bradshaw's Divorce on HBO. August: Osage County is fucking brilliant. I literally think about it all the time. My mom says Tracy Letts in Indignation "made the hair on her arms stand on end." So like, we don't hate Tracy Letts here.
I've already told you our main character Wheeler is a privileged white guy making a mess of his life (you might even say he's wheeling) so of course it follows that the women in his life (four total) act like adults and deal with his messes responsibly. Barf. I repeatedly turned to my theater companion and said "Men are trash. Men are garbage," which is completely against my New Year's resolution to stop thinking: men are trash, men are garbage. But look, "men are garbage" seems to be Tracy's central argument. If it's not, we're in even more trouble than I thought. In the playbill we learn that Linda Vista is Tracy's idea of what could've happened to him if he'd taken a different path.
Let's talk about humor for a sec. Ostensibly this play is funny. The audience laughed a ton. My friends laughed a ton. I can tell you that I looked around and the sold-out audience loved this play. The guy next to me was howling. I only genuinely laughed a couple of times because I thought Wheeler was a dick. But I can also tell you that I didn't not enjoy this play while it was happening to me. And that is why misogyny is so fucking insidious.
I think as women we're taught to believe that men are smarter than us and when a man is quick, and funny, and opinionated about fucking everything like Wheeler, we're just taught to go with it, sit back and maybe you'll learn something, kid. But when Wheeler is dumping his super nice LIFE COACH girlfriend, who god knows why she wanted to be with him anyway (is it because misogyny is insidious?), and she's like begging him not to break up with her, I wanted to throw fucking shit at the stage. Because while this scene isn't exactly wrong, people do act this way, it's so fucking WRONG because WHY DO PEOPLE ACT THIS WAY. And that's sort of where we never get to in this play. Wheeler is a snarky asshole who makes poor choices throughout the play, blows his life up, sort of realizes it, and then makes a very small move towards being better by taking a picture of his young co-worker, again appropriating something from a woman to help himself move forward. So really what the fuck did he learn at all?
For me, Letts never really gets to why we should give a fuck about the narcissistic Wheeler. He's borderline abusive with his manipulation of Minnie, a young girl he's "helping." He's abandoned the son who actually needs him. A kind woman comes into his life and he treats her like shit. We're told he once had an artistic talent at photography but gave it up because he couldn't hack it. This is the lynchpin Wheeler's pysche turns upon. He had a kid and gave up photography and never recovered. Fuck you, Wheeler. Having kids turns your life upside down, you won't hear differently from me. But why is it that women not only have to recover from the ACTUAL GESTATING AND BIRTHING PROCESS but also mold their lives around the kid and the responsibility and move fucking forward while navel-gazers like Wheeler whine about their broken dreams. NOPE.
About six years ago my mentor, the incredible David Bradley, told me about the inspiration for his story You Remember The Pin Mill. He said, "And I'm looking at this depressed white guy and I'm thinking, what the fuck's with you? 'Bout the only thing you can do is run for President." And that's what this play made me think about. I found it really bothersome that the 95% white audience loved it so much. Because Wheeler is tragic, and accepting Wheeler and not expecting him to be better is tragic.
So look, if you're Ben Affleck, a middle-aged white man, or a woman who loves them, go see this play. But for me, Wheeler was all too familiar. He's the guy they wrote "walk into a room with the confidence of a mediocre white man" about. And ya'll, I'm just tired of all that shit.
(EDITORS NOTE: The fantastic actress Carrie Coon corrected a misusage of an August: Osage County quote in a previous version of this review and we send our thanks!)