By Tulis McCall
There is something seriously amiss in the life of Linda, now at The Manhattan Theatre Club. Penelope Skinner has written play that the radio PR blurb tells us is about a woman who has it all and refuses to be discounted. In reality, however, the cracks on the wall of Linda’s life are evident from the first syllable. At no time does she have it all, and deep down she knows it.
While Linda (Janie Dee) is championing a beauty cream for older women – we never find out what it does exactly, only that it is intended for older women – she is dealing with a career where people are nipping at her heels and a family that is in full, but quiet melt down. Her daughter Bridget (Molly Ranson) is in teenage turmoil about what to use as an audition piece from Shakespeare. Neil (Donald Sage Mackay), her present husband (there was clearly a first, about whom we discover zero) is listening with one tenth of an ear, which is about as much as he puts into his marriage. He is not unhappy, he is simply free-floating and hoping to bump into something that gets his attention. Her first child, Alice (Jennifer Ikeda), is suffering from a trauma that occurred 10 years ago when she was cyberbullied. As a result Alice now wears a onesie of a skunk costume. She is hiding her body. No one seems to be affected by this except in passing. Most of Linda’s time is spent proclaiming her successes to her family in the hopes that ONE of them will get the message and follow her example.
Not so much.
Back at work the new gal, Amy (Molly Griggs), who does have ambition, is going to be in charge of Alice’s “Work Experience” experience. Except that Amy seems to be the person who sabotaged Alice back in the day at school. Odd that Linda never picks up on this little factoid. Seems as though a mother would remember the person who attacked her daughter.
Anyway, the cracks widen and we watch Linda’s life crumble. Work goes topsy-turvy. Her relationship with her husband takes a serious detour. Work gets worse, and worse, and worse with Amy at the center of the storm. Linda refuses to be counted out at the same time she is putting stones into her pocket and walking into the ocean. While she has been hanging on to the story of her personal success: a woman who has it all and still wears a size 10 dress, she has not noticed that the world has been moving in another direction, or directions, entirely.
Whatever relationships she thought she had have not been tended to, and when she goes to the relationship bank for a withdrawal, the accounts are empty. She is left alone and shattered.
As far as I can tell there is nothing redeeming about this story or the writing. Being a Woman of a Certain Age myself, I am sensitive to these issues and to the way they are handled. Watching a woman unravel for two acts is neither interesting or meaningful. Linda has one trajectory and it is downward all the way. Not only is Linda monumentally narcissistic, in addition, she is surrounded by equally unlikable folks. Her husband is a dullard, her co-workers are piranhas, her older daughter is a hopeless victim who is focused on staying that way. The only person for whom we feel any emotion is Bridget, whose main concern is why there are no juicy male roles in Shakespeare. Good luck with that one, Bridget.
There is no classical theme here, no monumental lesson. Linda is not a tragic character. She is a woman who has been beaten up by the demands of a life that makes her appear that she has it all, and she has nothing to show for it. We don’t need any more stories of how women fail. Got plenty of those already, with more in the pipeline.
LINDA – Written by Penelope Skinner; Directed by Lynne Meadow
Cast: Janie Dee, Meghann Fahy, Molly Griggs, Jennifer Ikeda, Maurice Jones, Donald Sage Mackay, Molly Ranson and John C. Vennema
Scenic Design by Walt Spangler; Costume Design by Jennifer von Mayrhauser, Lighting Design by Jason Lyons
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. Tickets for Linda are available by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, online by visiting www.nycitycenter.org, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street).