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
Would you want to live forever as you are? Think about losing everyone you love over decades as well as hiding in order not to be feared and ostracized. (In an update, one might easily be locked in a Pentagon lab.) Now imagine being given that choice as a curious, imaginative, over-protected 11 year-old child. In 1893.
The Tuck Family – pa, Angus (the thoroughly appealing Michael Park), ma, Mae (Carolee Carmello whose presence is warm, but whose voice is abrasive), older son, Miles (Robert Lenzi), and younger son, Jesse (a lively, sympathetic Andrew Keenan-Bolger) were homesteading 100 years ago, when they all drank from an innocuous spring and became immortal. Miles and Jesse leave home on ten- year walkabouts, but Angus and Mae stick, wary and secluded. Still, the family remains close. Life goes on. And on. But this isn’t really about the Tucks.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Robert Lenzi, Carolee Carmello, Sarah Charles Lewis
Winnie Foster (newcomer, Sarah Charles Lewis), lives with her mother (a credible Valerie Wright) and grandmother (Pippa Pearthree with a surprisingly artificial old age accent), at the edge of woods which have been owned by her family for generations. Mrs. Foster remains in widow’s weeds after almost a year and confines her restless daughter to the house. When a fair comes to town, the usually obedient child can stand it no longer and runs off to have some fun.
Crossing the forest, Winnie encounters Jesse on his way home after a lengthy absence, and sees him drink from the spring. What could be more welcome than fresh water? She moves towards it. Jesse distracts her suggesting they climb an enormous tree – perspective, of course, affecting everything. Neither has ever really had a friend.
Sarah Charles Lewis, Andrew Keenan-Bolger
Set Designer Walt Spanger’s tree is comprised of what appear to be curved, undulating plywood boards hung with enormous clumps of like-colored leaves. It’s marvelous. The Foster’s Victorian door front, the Tuck’s Joseph-Cornell-meets-Louise-Nevelson home, and night stars are also terrific. Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner does an excellent job of adding magic to a production that unfortunately has little of it elsewhere.
Mae comes looking for her sons and finds Miles, whereupon Jesse drops from the tree. Before he can explain, Winnie follows. Anyone knowing about their existence is a threat. An untrustworthy child can only be more so. They throw a coat over her head and take her home. Angus is delighted they have a dinner guest. Mae is worried. Miles is furious. Jesse says “Can we keep her?”
Meanwhile, Constable Joe (Fred Applegate) and his nerdy son/deputy Hugo (Michael Wartella) search for Winnie. I don’t remember these characters from the book, but here they seem given too much stage time.
Carolee Carmello and Michael Park
Jesse passes for 17, but is actually 103. There are clues in the way the Tucks react and in what they say. The story comes out. Angus and Mae soften towards the girl. Miles reveals a secret. Still, prudence dictates that Winnie, promising never to tell, will be escorted home the next day. Not. Reveling in company with whom he can share adventures, Jesse takes Winnie to the fair.
Costume Designer Gregg Barnes manifests artistic, multi-pattern thespian apparel, period clothing for towns people just fanciful enough not to distract, and perfectly conceived attire for the “Man in the Yellow Suit.” The concept of dressing the show’s EVER-present, disconnected dancers (really, one begins to want to brush them away like mosquitoes) as wood nymphs or something from a Renaissance fair, however, is a real mistake. The visual is a constant disconnect.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Sarah Charles Lewis
A desire to win something for Winnie provokes Jesse into volunteering to have his age guessed by the yellow-clad owner of the fair. Winnie tries unsuccessfully to warn her friend. The Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrance Mann) had been sniffing around her house asking questions about a spring and an old family. He knows. The usually entertaining Mr. Mann appears trapped in a role he now regrets. There’s little amusement in his portrayal.
The “youngsters” run off too late, are followed and overheard. The Man in the Yellow Suit has ambitions of world dominion. He’ll blackmail Winnie’s mother in exchange for a deed to the woods. Mrs. Foster, Winnie, and the Tucks have major decisions to make. Winnie’s is whether to stay with the Tucks, secretly agree to join them later, or live her life. The Tucks must decide whether to finally pull up roots. Only two of these decisions depend on The Man in the Yellow Suit.
Sarah Charles Lewis makes a fine Winnie in her Broadway debut. The young actress embodies innocence, joy, spunk, confusion, and an accessibility that will serve her career.
Having just written a review of another new musical with lackluster songs, I regretfully feel this one is even less successful. Lyrics sound like heavy handed and/or cliché prose unwillingly submitting to music which itself arrives homogenized folk. Except for a ballet epilogue, there’s no fantasy, no purity, no poetry.
Being an otherwise tremendous fan of Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw, I can’t imagine what he was thinking!
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Sarah Charles Lewis
Based on the book ‘Tuck Everlasting’ by Natalie Babbitt
Book by Claudia Shear & Tom Federle
Music by Chris Miller
Lyrics by Nathan Tysen
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
235 West 44th Street