Monday, March 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Janie Dee Returns in “Linda”

Written by Penelope Skinner; directed by Lynne Meadow
Performances through April 2, 2017
Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 West 55th Street, New York, NY

Janie Dee (right) in Linda (photo: Joan Marcus)

It begins promisingly with its heroine giving an impressive, impassioned presentation to kick off a new line of anti-aging products for women over 50 for her company, Swan Beauty. In these opening moments, actress Janie Dee—conspicuously absent from the New York stage since her incandescent portrayal of a robot in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential in 2000—expresses herself with witty, intelligent and appealing charm. Too bad Penelope Skinner’s Linda, despite its leading lady’s lively presence, never again approaches its opening high.

Skinner’s eponymous heroine has overcome sundry obstacles: at age 55—the new 35—she has a great job, a great husband and two great daughters. But the play artlessly takes Linda on a predictable ride once it’s obvious that nothing is as it seems: Neil, her husband, is cheating; Alice, her grown daughter (with another man), is a mess mentally; and teenager Bridget annoyingly talks about which male role she wants to recite in her acting class.

And the office has gotten tougher: Linda’s longtime boss Dave has hired a hot—in both senses—25-year-old spitfire, Amy, who’s already angling for Linda’s job. Throw in Stevie, the nubile young singer fronting the band Neil’s moonlighting in (and fooling around with) and Luke, a fresh (in both senses) “spiritual” temp with eyes for Linda, and you’ll know exactly Linda is going long before it gets there.

It all plays out as routinely as you’d expect. Linda discovers that Neil is cheating when she comes home early one day from her poisonous office situation and finds Stevie in the kitchen wearing his shirt. Soon, Alice—also temping at her mother’s office—discovers that Amy is an old classmate who had a hand in posting some sexual photos of Alice on the internet a few years back.  And when Luke seduces Linda in a weak office moment, Amy (who else?) gets hold of his selfie memento of the occasion and sends it off to Dave (who else?).

Skinner relies too heavily on contrivance and sheer irrationality to get from point A to point B. Would Linda really go to the storage room with Luke for a quickie and let him take a post-flagrante selfie that the whole world might see? Would Luke let Amy take his phone to discover said selfie so she can disseminate it around the office? The characters in Linda end up acting like those in any run-of-the-mill sitcom, the main difference being that, by clocking in at over two hours, Linda and its denizens wear out their welcome.

Lynne Meadow’s handsomely mounted production comprises Walt Spangler’s ingenious rotating set, Jason Lyons’ sagacious lighting and Fitz Patton’s smart sound design. But, if the talented supporting cast is defeated by the shaky material, there’s Janie Dee giving her all: such astonishing vitality makes one wish that Linda was the equal of its Linda.

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