OnStage Associate New York Critic
“Linda”, a new play by Penelope Skinner (“The Ruins of Civilization”), opened on Stage 1 of Manhattan Theatre Club’s NY City Center after its initial run in London. The title character, a senior brand manager in a cosmetic company in her fifties, is portrayed by energetic Janie Dee, unfortunately the only note worthy performer in the cast. Linda likes to present herself as “an award winning business woman, who has a wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters and still fits in her lucky suit from ten years ago”. With her new marketing campaign proposal, she tries to revolutionize the way aging women are seen in modern culture.
Linda’s boss, Dave (John C. Vennema), cares about “making women feel better”, but “only if it makes them buy”, and picks the anti-aging cream campaign of a 25-year-old newcomer, Amy (Molly Griggs), that is targeted towards young women. Unprincipled careerist, Amy is the antagonist, but she is also a victim of the common enemy of all women; mass culture. “I am terrified of reaching 30!” exclaims Amy in her attempt at a soulful conversation with Linda, and later shares this with Luke (Maurice Jones), the company intern. Amy hysterically conveys the pressure of building a career, getting married, and starting a family while you still got your looks.
Linda seems to be running the same marathon, but she notices more often that other people passing her by, men and women alike, ignore her presence. In addition to the changing dynamics at the office, which Linda takes as a personal failure, her family is falling to pieces. Trying to live by example for her daughters, 15-year-old Bridget (Molly Ranson) and 25-year-old Alice (Jennifer Ikeda), Linda loses the personal connection with both of them. Amidst a mid-life crisis, her husband, Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), starts an affair with a much younger woman, the singer Stevie (Meghann Fahy), which sends Linda to rock bottom.
Janie Dee is scarily believable in her portrayal of a woman on the verge of losing it. Simultaneously tough and vulnerable, Dee looks impeccable in bright. solid colored dresses, and a suit by the costume designer, Jennifer von Mayrhuser. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, lead by the MTC’s artistic director Lynne Meadow, gives a rather shallow performance.
It doesn’t help that the play itself has significant flaws, mainly in the interpersonal connections, which sometimes are straight up confusing. For example, why does the older daughter, Alice, live like a guest in her parents’ house? The coincidences seem forced and “soapy” which is a shame because the topic of misrepresentation of women “of a certain age” is ambitious and potent. The usage of actual commercial images featuring women, in Linda’s presentation in the beginning and later as mood boards in Amy’s office, makes a powerful statement of the reality of the problem.
The revolving stage, with sets designed by Walt Spangler, is an elegant means of showing the passage of time. The director, Lynne Meadow, successfully uses it in an almost cinematic “montage” towards the end, set to the ballade sang by Neils’ young lover. The original music and sound design, by Fitz Patton, has some wonderful moments like the wind and shower accompanying Linda’s final attempt to overpower imprudent Amy.
“Linda” produced by Manhattan Theatre Club runs through April 2nd in the NY City Center at 131 West 55th street. For more information and tickets visit www.lindaplay.com. Photo: Joan Marcus