By: Patrick Christiano
An ambitious new play by Penelope Skinner that originated at London’s Royal Court makes New York debut at Manhattan Theatre Club.
The acclaimed award-winning British actress Janie Dee, renowned for her comic flair, is the title character in Penelope Skinner’s satire Linda about a 55- year-old successful marketing executive at the top of her game, working for Swan cosmetics, where she has risen through the ranks to have it all. We first meet the self-assured married mother of two, who can still fit into the same size 10 dress she did 15 years ago, as she likes to point out, at the opening of the play. She is at the office pitching a new anti-aging cream for woman over 50, intent on bringing attention to the 50+ women and keeping them from becoming invisible. Despite Linda’s polished veneer of a successful career and marriage the cracks are beginning to show, and Linda herself is starting to feel invisible.
Playwright Penelope Skinner also wrote The Village Bike and The Ruins of Civilization and might be deemed a feminist pessimist. Her new play, a dark comedy, is a ruthless look at women in which she tackles numerous themes that resonate for them – sexual harassment, eating disorders, body image, low self-esteem, ageism, self-mutilation, women’s rivalry, and pornography – come to mind instantly. They all figure prominently into the plot of Linda. Many of the characters are not fully developed, but we still get this check-list of women’s issues, which becomes a subtle reminder of how low you could fall.
The overly plotted melodramatic play with many short scenes in which Skinner keeps piling on the information at the sacrifice of the emotional conflict, although engaging and entertaining, becomes predictable and obvious as soon as Linda’s life begins to unravel. At home Linda’s older daughter, Alice (Jennifer Ikeda), is struggling to deal with a trauma from college, where she has been branded a slut on the internet and explicit pictures of her have been posted. Her younger daughter, Bridget (Molly Ranson), who wants to be an actress, feels ignored by both her parents, and Linda’s self-absorbed husband, Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), who moonlight’s in a rock band, is secretly having an affair. To add to Linda’s ever mounting burdens at the office a younger woman, Amy (Molly Griggs), is brought in by her boss, Dave (John C. Vennema) to take over her account.
Intensely staged by Lynne Meadows Linda is a fast-paced comedy performed on a spectacular revolving set by Walt Spangler that is the highlight of the evening. The absorbing plot developments are thrown out in rapid fire scenes that unfold as quickly as the set spins, punctuated by music after each new scene. The effect is like an elaborate sketch comedy without the emotional build because the action never slows down for a moment to let anything accumulate. The result is like being continually battered by a sledge hammer, where the accomplished actor Janie Dee is fundamentally the same at the beginning of the play as at the end. The story ultimately becomes a bold statement of “what not to do” for women.
Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center – Stage I
131 W. 55th St.
Photos: Joan Marcus
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