We’re present at an in-house marketing pitch. On screen is Swan Cosmetics’ Product 0427, an Anti-Aging Cream. “After 50, women are invisible, underrepresented in the media,” Linda begins. “You rarely get marketed to…” Models used in advertising are in their 20s and 30s (images) reminding women not what they could be but who they were, she continues. Only Helen Mirren (images) is allowed to grow older. We want to tell them we know you’re out there, we see you.
There probably isn’t a female in the audience who doesn’t understand this at gut level. In fact, sympathetic smatterings of applause and laughter emerge from our audience throughout performance.
Linda (Jane Dee) is a poster woman for having it all. At 55, she’s a whip smart, attractive, respected woman executive who makes enough money so that perpetually distracted husband Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), a teacher, can play in a rock band without worrying about household finances, and the only concern of well adjusted, 15 year-old daughter Bridget (Molly Ranson), is what male monologue to use for university theater auditions – women’s roles all being wimps.
The fourth member of the family, now 25 year-old adopted daughter Alice (Jennifer Ikeda), dropped off an engineering track in college, cyber-stalked by a high school incident involving the dissemination of naked photos and abject bullying. At 25, she’s been hanging around her room in a shapeless (sexless) skunk costume her mom refers to as the “onsie,” for years. (Designer Jennifer von Mayrhauser creates an inspired outfit.)
Linda loves and encourages both girls, but has been, perhaps, a bit preoccupied and too patient with Alice who clearly needs professional help. She finally secures her an intern job at Swan for “work experience,” without telling anyone the girl is her daughter. Alice wears her black and white “armor” beneath a skirt and jacket like Mormon magic underwear. What roils beneath remains.
Playwright Penelope Skinner imagines enough consequences to middle age and illusions of having it all to make a contemporary Job of poor Linda. Almost every destructive pathology addressed by feminism is experienced or manifest by the heroine and her family. Some are due to inattention, others societal. Several cracks in an otherwise glossy veneer occur on the same day:
First, rejecting the confident presentation, Swan’s short-sighted president, Dave (John C. Vennema), introduces Linda to Amy (Molly Griggs), a young, pretty, amoral barracuda whose designs on her job she vastly underestimates. Then, returning home early, she encounters Stevie (Meghann Fahy), the nubile lead singer of Neil’s band, wearing only his t-shirt. (Her husband’s subsequent excuses evoke audience reaction just short of boos.)
John C. Vennema, Janie Dee
Tip of the iceberg. Linda’s mother set a secret precedent, Amy has an historical connection with Alice, a co-worker named Luke (Maurice Jones) affects both Alice and her mother drastically, Amy grabs further opportunity, Linda gets a taste of that which she understood only superficially… Crash!
Like watching a pinball machine, cause and effect are inexorably bound once the lever is pulled. Aside from Alice’s obvious need of help, I additionally winced in reaction to behavior so stupid, it was uncharacteristic of savvy, powerhouse Linda. Of course, she was in a heightened emotional state…(Neil and Dave are effectively stand-ins for attitudes, rather than people.) The play is timely, sharp, and articulate, with a few immensely creative turns.
Janie Dee is flat out superb. Conviction is so palpable, blinders so believably habitual, her character’s disintegration jars with real impact. We (at least, we women) feel Linda’s ambition, pride, shock, courage, desperation, that moment of madness – we even conjecture unplayed outcomes. Dee is 100% present, communicating with laser focus.
The rest of the company is well cast. Of particular note are Jennifer Ikeda whose anger and depression never loses its visceral bite, an easy trap for that theatrical state, and Molly Griggs, whose oblivious narcissism is splendid in its singularity.
Walt Spangler’s Revolving Set looks just right from upscale kitchen to tasteful modern offices, though I missed personal items. The choice and framework is its achievement.Used to best advantage revolution allows us to observe things happening simultaneously as well as swiftly and successively.
Director Lynne Meadow is highly skilled with naturalism – each bit of stage business feels innate to character and situation, every pause and gesture has a reason. We even see ideas with which a character wrestles. Linda’s presentation style is aptly differentiated from the rest of the scenario. Pacing is spot on. Alice’s latter reveal and Linda’s crossing boundaries are both remarkable parentheses.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Jennifer Ikeda, Molly Ranson, Janie Dee
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
Linda by Penelope Skinner
Directed by Lynne Meadow
New York City Center Stage I
131 W 55th St