March 18, 2017

Feminism is a Lost Cause in "Linda"

Being a woman today can be tough (just ask Hillary Clinton). But it isn't as Job-like tough as Penelope Skinner makes it out to be in the play Linda, which is running through April 2 at Manhattan Theatre Club.

The title character is a 55-year-old female marketing exec who has worked her way up to the top ranks of her firm, while raising two daughters and supporting her beta-male husband, a school teacher who moonlights with a rock band.

Over the course of the two-act play, Linda is challenged at work by a younger woman and at home by the emotional angst of her two daughters and the prospect that her husband might be cheating on her. In the midst of it all, she also comes home and cooks dinner most nights.

In short, the play is designed to appeal to MTC's audience of baby boom women, many of whom have encountered similar problems of their own. When Linda tells her husband that she doesn't want him to cook because she doesn't feel like having to clean up the mess he always makes it got a big knowing laugh at the performance I attended.

And yet, Skinner sacrifices real drama or fresh insights by simply checking off a list of the ways in which ambitious women can be thwarted: sexual harassment at work, cyberbullying in school, or even, as in the case of Linda's teen daughter, being relegated to one of the few female roles in the school Shakespeare festival instead of getting a crack at one of the meatier male parts reserved only for her boy classmates.

It might have been more satisfying if Skinner had focused on the problems of Linda's eldest daughter Alice who has retreated from the world after an angry boyfriend put up some nude photos of her online and her classmates slut-shamed her so aggressively that, now 10 years later, she still hasn't recovered.

Or it might have been interesting if the play had explored the effect all of that had on the now-grown mean girl who lead the cyber bulling. Instead that woman is now portrayed as almost a cartoon villain. 

I pitied the actress who had to play her but the other characters don't come off much better, reduced to spouting platitudes and position points instead of really talking to one another.

More successful is Walt Spangler's revolving set which (kudos to the busy and silent stagehands) morphs as the turntable revolves into a series of impressively different rooms, ranging from Linda's designer kitchen to her boss' sleek office.

I wished the play itself had been as streamlined because the Olivier Award-winning actress Janie Dee is fantastic as Linda (click here to watch a video interview with the actress).

Even when the script doesn't give her much to work with, Dee digs deep and her taut body nearly quivers with the years of rage that Linda has had to repress in order to make her life work. 

And it's great to see Jennifer Ikeda, so sassy and high energy in Qui Nguyen's romantic comedy Vietgone, getting the chance to show different colors as the morose Alice (click here to read an interview with her).

But overall, this isn't Manhattan Theatre Club at its best.  It isn't that great for the cause of feminism either.

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