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A CurtainUp Review

The simple truth is that as a woman in the fifty plus age group you rarely get marketed . . . On the few occasions you do see a woman of your actual age group in an advert she's either Helen Mirren (the only older woman still allowed to exist) or she's selling you meals on wheels. .
— An excerpt from one of two monologues Penelope Skinner has written for her title character. in Linda's two
Janie Dee (photo: Richard Termine)
Women over fifty take heart. British playwright Penelope Skinner is championing the cause of all who suddenly feel irrelevant and no longer the protagonists of their lives. Linda, the titular character of her new play is a marketing executive at a cosmetics firm who feels your pain. After all, at fifty-five, she is in that "invisible" ghetto with you, an ambassador for recognizing the mature woman's beauty.

Skinner's Linda is far from irrelevant. In fact she's at the top of her game as an executive at the Swan company (think Dove soap). She's confident for her colleagues will like her proposal to market products like anti-aging creams with ads featuring the models representing the women they're intended for instead of their much younger selves.

As she did The Village Bike , her previous play to transfer from London to New York, Ms. Skinner has once again expanded her view of a particular feminine issue to encompass its broader social aspects.

Linda's amusing opening monologue is an effective set-up for her double disillusionment. Not only is her proposed ad campaign rejected, but it's replaced by that of a much younger newcomer to the firm.

It makes dramatic sense to have Linda's workplace trauma also affect her personal life. However, the plot detours Skinner has created to establish her themes send the play as well as Linda's having-it-all life into a disappointing downward spiral. Improbabilities surface nd the valid social issues get overshadowed by contrived, melodramatic events both at work and at home. Linda becomes deeply flawed heroine who pretty much undermines the causes she espouses with her own imperfect responses to the slings and arrows of her imperfect world.

While not a triumph for the playwright, MtC's production of Linda is a triumph for Janie Dee and Lynne Meadow's handsomely staged production. Dee is a dynamite actress who'll hold your interest even even when her character no longer does. She delivers that opening monologue with wit and warmth and effortlessly navigates from self-assured career woman to enraged desperation and hopeless despair.

Linda is Dee's show. The 7-member ensemble can do just so much to support her. Molly Ranson and Molly Griggs do so most successfully — Ranson as Linda's ambitious and idealistic youngest daughter Bridget who experiences her own disillusionment; Griggs as Amy, the Swan Company's version of the classic All About Eve younger-woman-undoing-her-older "role model.

Walt Spangler's rotating set deserves a less flawed play. It does, however, help director Meadow to smoothly steer the cast through the escalating confrontations and disasters, in the Swan office and Linda's home.

The colorful staging and Dee's eloquent performance keep us engaged even as the play crumbles under the weight of its contrivances. It's hard enough to swallow that daughter Alice's hibernation in a weird skunk hoodie has gone on for ten years, without proper psychological help. Credibility takes an even bigger hit when it turns out that Amy, Linda's bête noire at the office was also Alice's classmate and leader of the group responsible for her not only dropping out of school but life. Alice's grown-up mother getting herself into a similar reputation destroying situation is another clunky twist.

The playwright deserves credit for not giving us an optimistic rah-rah-rah ending. But as Linda should have paid closer attention to the fault lines in her perfect career and private life, Skinner should have been more careful about overstuffing her play with unbelievable contrivances, coincidences and standard issue extra-marital liaisons. Those missteps make Linda's downfall self-inflicted when she should have been the tragic tragic victim of prejudice and corporate greed.

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Linda by Penelope Skinner
Directed by Lynne Meadow
Cast: Janie Dee (Linda), Meghann Fahy (Stevie), Molly Griggs (Amy), Jennifer Ikeda (Alice), Maurice Jones (Luke), Donald Sage Mackay (Neil), Molly Ranson (Bridget), John C. Vennema (Dave).
Sets: Walt Spangler
Costumes: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Lighting: Jason Lyons
Original Music & Sound: Fitz Patton
Video Designer: Rocco DiSanti
Dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Stage Manager: Cole Bonenberger
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including 1 intermission
Manhattan Theater Club, City Center Stage I 131 West 55th Street
From 2/07/17; opening 2/28/17; closing 4/02/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/23 press preview

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