by Penelope Skinner
Jennifer Ikeda, Molly Ranson, and Janie Dee in Linda (photo: Joan Marcus)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
"Visibility!" Linda, a sharp, snappy marketing executive for Swan Cosmetics, is pitching a new campaign for women in the dreaded over-fifties age group. This is the invisible "other," the gender that feels unrepresented, who complains, "I feel like life is happening all around me. I used to be the protagonist of my life and now suddenly I’m starting to feel irrelevant".
Opening Penelope Skinner's insightful play, Linda, at Manhattan Theatre Club, the title character promotes the need for a new anti-aging product. "Ladies? We know you’re out there! We see you! You exist!" and she proves her point several times. At age 55, Linda, is a leader in her field, is married with two teenage daughters and looks pretty terrific wearing the same size ten dress she did 15 years ago. Played with style and energy by Olivier Award-winner, Janie Dee, Linda is a vivacious demonstration that you can do it all.
Unfortunately, she finds that life and work interfere. Her boss, Dave, (John C. Vennema), head of Swan Cosmetics, does not go for Linda's plan to expand their line for older women. A symbol of corporate gender bias, he prefers a younger demographic. In fact, he goes even further, removing her from the account and giving it to 25-year-old Amy (Molly Griggs), a scheming Eve to Linda's Margo in All About Eve. Linda no longer has the boss's ear.
Meanwhile, what had seemed like her picture-perfect home has fissures that the hard-working Linda never noticed before. Her husband, school teacher Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), moonlights in a rock band with a nubile chick singer (Meghann Fahy), signalling problems. Linda's teenage daughter, Bridget, played by Molly Ranson, is brimming with enthusiasm but gets a modicum of attention from her father and is barely heard by her mother. Her 25-year-old daughter, Alice (Jennifer Ikeda), no longer in the workforce, cannot get over being traumatized in high school. She wraps herself in a skunk onesie and blames much of her emotional disarray on her mother. We have to wonder how apparently bright and successful parents and a woman like Linda could let Alice's obvious psychological problems swell to such extremes over the years.
Skinner (The Village Bike) writes smart captivating dialogue and rounds out even the slightest characters, yet the promising feminist social issues are compromised by melodramatic family problems. Setting herself up as strong and confident, Linda's reactions to instabilities are her greatest undoing, especially after a careless liaison with a young employer (Maurice Jones), where she finds herself in somewhat the same situation as her daughter, Alice, did in high school.
As Linda, Jamie Dee is convincing on many levels, warm, witty, and physically authoritative with a confident stance in her classic dress, often repeating the story of her professional success after beginning as a single parent with no training. Her monologues are impressive and articulate. Through her performance we may wince, but we can understand Linda's reckless moves.
Lynne Meadows meticulously directs well drawn-characters and the brisk movement between work and home on an attractive revolving stage designed by Walt Spangler, enhanced by Jason Lyons' lighting. Jennifer von Mayrhauser contrasts Linda's traditional sheath dress and pumps with the newcomer's cool contemporary look.
While Skinner's feminist point of view is diluted by an over-stuffed plot, Janie Dee, in a dazzling performance, fiercely drives home Linda's message that women can't do it all.
Manhattan Theatre Club
City Center Stage I
131 West 55th Street, NYC
Previewed: 02/07/17. Opening: 02/28/17. Closing: 04/02/17
Cast: Janie Dee (Linda), Meghann Fahy (Stevie), Molly Griggs (Amy), Jennifer Ikeda (Alice), Maurice Jones (Luke), Donald Sage Mackay (Neil), Molly Ranson (Bridget), John C. Vennema (Dave)
Playwright: Penelope Skinner
Director: Lynne Meadow
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Also can be read on TotalTheater.com