Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

The Manhattan Theatre Club

Linda – Bullseye!


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.


Janie Dee

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

The Father – Rage Against the Dying of The Light*


Already broadly celebrated in Paris and London, Florian Zeller’s 2012 “tragic Farce” (the playwright’s term) places us squarely in a mind suffering from advanced dementia. That’s an oxymoron. One cannot be squarely inside anything whose parameters are frighteningly mercurial. Intimates are unfamiliar, geography morphs beneath one’s feet, time shifts back and forth, oblivious and cruel. Yet we are there, wherever there is, almost as surely as Zeller’s protagonist, André, The Father (Frank Langella).

An elegant, upper middle class Frenchman who was probably never likeable, André fights the onset of this disease with a long unassailable ego and every ounce of his considerable strength and intelligence. It’s as if Prospero (The Tempest) took on the typhoon called forth by his errant brain. We watch as self-sacrificing daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe) futilely tries to get him at-home help who can withstand his anger, confusion, and indignant denial.

Frank Langella

The play is a succession of scenes divided by blackouts with painful, flashing, proscenium lights – brain synapses? At first, we’re in André’s tasteful, bourgeois apartment shortly after his latest caregiver has fled in tears. He tells Anne that, among other failings, the woman stole his watch – André’s compass and an ongoing concern throughout. When it’s found in a cupboard behind the microwave where he stashes valuables, her obstinate father declares the only reason it wasn’t purloined is that he hid it. Why is Anne so unsympathetic, he demands, why is she not like the younger daughter he prefers?!

Brian Avers, Frank Langella

Every time the lights go off and on, time and place alter unsequentially. In the first vignette, Anne, who is divorced from Antoine (Charles Borland), says she’s moving to London to be with her lover, Pierre (Brian Avers) and must find a solution to her father’s inability to care for himself. In the next, André is living with Anne and a resentful Pierre to whom she seems to be married; then Antoine appears as her spouse. Both men seem to be current, both are not at first recognized. One of them repeatedly slaps the 80 year-old which is viscerally shocking. André regresses to a whimpering child.

One moment Anne appears to be a completely different woman, a blonde (Kathleen McNenny). In the next, she is ‘herself.’ A newly hired aide, Laura (Hannah Cabell), looks just like André’s absent daughter, who, spoiler alert, turns out to be long dead. The actor who plays Antoine shows up as a doctor; the blonde as his nurse.

Kathryn Erbe, Frank Langella

André is convinced Anne wants his apartment and will put him in a home. In his shaken mind, faces become interchangeable. Unmoored, he remembers only the last scene from which he tries to regain his bearings. We ricochet in time like a character out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. The only consecutive aspect of the piece is increased incapacity, every incremental change palpably experienced. Charm turns to cruelty, paranoia, panic.

Frank Langella, Hannah Cabell

Keep your eyes on Scott Pask’s excellent Set. Each time the lights come up, things have changed. Artwork, photographs, books, and furniture disappear and return. To say this compounds the disorienting narrative is to minimize its effect. Between Mr. Langella’s inhabitation of this larger than life personality, Donald Holder’s disturbing Lighting Design, Fitz Patton’s evocative Music and Sound, and the map-less script, you may want to pack Dramamine.

Florian Zeller and translator Christopher Hampton have crafted an immensely affecting, immersive play in which we find ourselves sharing, rather than observing the protagonist’s experience.

Frank Langella

Frank Langella is simply brilliant. Whatever affectation you may have attributed to the actor during the mid portion of his long career, has, these last years, been jettisoned for newfound authenticity. The portrayal is wrenching; mercurial adjustments in an effort to appear more grounded completely credible. Rather than indulging in an appeal for sympathy, Langella plays André with callous rancor, a man whose formidable pride and then actual self is violently stripped away by an unseen hand.

As Anne, Kathryn Erbe is believably strong, exhausted, frustrated and devoted.

Director Doug Hughes has done a masterful job. The result- powerful, nuanced, clarity of acting in an environment of utter obscurity.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Frank Langella, Kathryn Erbe

*Dylan Thomas

Manhattan Theatre Club presents
The Father by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Doug Hughes
Samuel J. Friedman Theater
261 West 47th Street