Theater: In Linda, She Has It All, But How Can She Keep It?

Originally published on The Culture Trip
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The play opens with 55-year-old Linda declaring to an unseen group of other middle-aged women, “We know you’re out there! We see you! You exist!” This proclamation is a fitting opening for a drama that can be described as an act of defiance.

The creator of such works as Fucked, The Village Bike, and Greenland, Skinner wrote Linda after being told, “Nobody’s interested in women over 50.” Given the play’s run at London’s Royal Court Theatre and its recent transfer to Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I, it’s clear people are interested in its heroine.

Along with that dismissive statement by “some douche,” Skinner says her motivation for writing Linda was hearing actresses at the National Theatre Studio in London talk about the lack of substantial roles for women.

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Playwright Penelope Skinner | Photo © 2017 Richard Termine

The title character is a successful senior executive—energetic, vivacious, and loquacious. Having started at her agency in her 30s, she has climbed to the top of the corporate ladder. As well as seeing Linda in her office, the audience witnesses her cooking dinner for her family still dressed in her office clothes – a brightly colored sleeveless dress and high heels. Simultaneously, she extols the virtues of hard work and positive thinking. A married mother of two—who boasts she still fits into the same suit she wore 15 years earlier—she’s eager to see her daughters enjoy success of their own.

As she tells them, both proudly and matter-of-factly, “My whole life I’ve been watching what I eat and watching what I say and watching how I walk, how I talk, what I wear. Because that’s what you have to do when you’re a woman, girls. We do what they do only backwards and in heels. And all this while achieving. Climbing. Raising children. You feel guilty at work you’re not with your kids. You feel guilty at home ’cause you’re not at work. But I’ve done it. By God, Linda Wilde has done it. I’ve made it to the top!”

“She has a right to be proud,” Skinner said of her protagonist over coffee between performances. “She’s done an amazing amount, achieved amazing things given the start she had in life and things that weren’t offered to her. She has a right to be impressed with herself. That’s how I feel, anyway. She’s not necessarily looking ahead or expecting what’s yet to come. What happens to her is not because she deserves it. And it’s not because she flew too close to the sun.

Linda’s seemingly picture-perfect foundation is rocked by successive setbacks. She has to compete with a younger coworker (Molly Griggs), who threatens Linda’s position at the office where hints of sexual harassment are carefully referred to and avoided. She catches her supposedly loyal husband (Donald Sage Mackay) in an affair with a much younger woman (Meghann Fahy) in his recreational band. She has to compete for the attention of her adolescent daughter (Molly Ranson), who has school play auditions. Her fully grown oldest (Jennifer Ikeda), who’s permanently clad in a onesie that resembles a skunk, is locked in a depression that prevents her from leaving the house; traumatized by slut-shaming and online harassment, she’s unable to function in the outside world.

Linda handles these situations the best that she can, but she is only human and she is flawed.  “What I love about playing her is she’s got a lot of faults and misconceptions about things,” said Janie Dee, the Olivier Award-winning actress who plays her. “That is stimulating to me and to other people.”

Photo: "LINDA" by Penelope Skinner; Lynne Meadow, director with Janie Dee, Meghann Fahy, Molly Griggs, Jennifer Ikeda, Maurice Jones, Donald Sage Mackay, Molly Ranson and John C. Vennema; presented by Manhattan Theatre Club; photo call/set-ups photographed: Wednesday, February 15, 2017; 9:30 PM at NY City Center Stage I-Manhattan Theatre Club, NYC; Photograph: © 2017 Richard Termine PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

John C. Vennema and Janie Dee | Photo © 2017 Richard Termine

Linda’s pride and ambition could be packaged into the phrase “having it all,” a familiar concept in fiction and entertainment, including plays like The Heidi Chronicles and the musical Baby. But Linda hardly suffers from entitlement.

“The things that she wants are things that are normal,” Skinner said. “What she’s really talking about is fulfillment in different areas of her life. I think it’s open to misinterpretation as a comment on the idea that women shouldn’t want it all. This idea of wanting it all is just to do with wanting equality, and equality isn’t too much to ask.”

Noting that if a play chronicled contentment, the dramatic canon would be quickly depleted, Skinner added, “If it has a happy ending, it’s a fairy tale about women. If it has a sad ending, then it’s like a morality tale, a fable. I don’t know how you escape it. I don’t believe any playwright sits down to write a cautionary tale. That’s not the point. The point is to tell the story of a human being.

“It’s like this never-ending experience you have every time you write a play or story about a woman,” she continued. “This idea of punishment is really interesting when you’re creating stories about women, and it’s to do with the narrative that we bring to the story to begin with. We are not necessarily accustomed to watching plays in which women are the protagonists.”

As a powerful blonde and ambitious woman, Linda frequently draws comparisons with Hillary Clinton. The presidential candidate was on the campaign trail when Linda opened in London in November 2015. Skinner had anticipated that Clinton, not Donald Trump, would be President by the time Linda opened in New York.

It’s not a play about Hillary,” Dee said emphatically when asked if Linda was a veiled portrait of Clinton. “I didn’t want to try to be her. It’s Linda, not Hillary. And I still think this is the world we’re living in, whether he’s there or she’s there. This is now. And it’s history. It’s hopefully not the future.”

Linda continues its run through April 2 at Manhattan Theatre Club City Center Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019. For tickets, visit NYCityCenter.org or call CityTix® at (212) 581-1212.

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